On April 4, Attorney General Rob Bonta issued a consumer alert to provide resources for the Pajaro community and other communities affected by natural disasters.
The recent Pajaro River levee rupture in Monterey County has caused significant destruction in the adjacent community, home to mostly low-income Latino farmworkers and immigrants, forcing nearly 2,000 Pajaro residents to evacuate.
This alert provides tips for California tenants and homeowners impacted by flooding, fires, and other catastrophes.
“California has been impacted by a series of weather-related catastrophes in recent months, and the Pajaro community and other affected communities have experienced a devastating amount of loss,” said Bonta. “Impacted residents are not alone during these difficult times. Today’s alert provides valuable tips and information about available resources to aid residents facing housing crises. As a state, we must continue working on ways to better prepare before disaster strikes and implement long-term solutions that protect our most vulnerable communities. My office will continue monitoring the situation and work closely with our partners to ensure all Californians receive the assistance needed.”
Tenants and homeowners have certain protections if their home has been damaged or destroyed by a natural disaster, such as an earthquake, wildfire, flood, or severe storm.
Tips for Tenants
If your rental home is completely destroyed by a natural disaster:
- Your lease ends, meaning you cannot continue living at the unit and you can stop paying rent. Take photos of the unit and communicate with your landlord about the condition of the property. This is important because if your unit is not completely destroyed, your lease does not end.
- If you are not sure if the rental unit was completely destroyed, call your local code enforcement office to request an inspection.
- Your landlord must return the pro-rated rent for the rest of the month, along with your full security deposit. For example, if your home is destroyed on June 10th, your landlord should return 20 days of rent.
- Renters insurance may cover the cost of temporary housing. Save your hotel and food receipts and contact your insurance company right away. If you don’t have insurance, the Red Cross may offer temporary shelter in your area. You may apply for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency if a disaster has been declared.
If your rental home is damaged but not completely destroyed by a natural disaster:
- Your lease continues, meaning you can continue living there and your landlord must make repairs and allow you to move back in.
- Your landlord must ensure that the unit is habitable, meaning fit for living in. This includes making sure that the roof and walls are waterproof, the windows and doors securely close and lock, the electrical wiring is safe and in good working order, and the plumbing is in good working order, along with other requirements.
- If you need repairs, let your landlord know. Make the request in writing and keep a copy. It is against the law for a landlord to retaliate because a tenant has asked for repairs. It is important to talk to a lawyer if your landlord refuses to make repairs or threatens to evict you.
- You must continue paying rent, but you may be entitled to a rent reduction while repairs are being made.
- If you want to move out, you will need to read your lease carefully to understand your options. For example, if you are on a month-to-month lease, you will need to give 30 days’ notice that you are moving.
Tips for Homeowners
If you own a home that has been destroyed by a natural disaster:
- Continue paying your mortgage. If you are facing financial difficulties, you may be eligible for a forbearance to postpone your mortgage payments. Contact your mortgage servicer to see if a disaster-related repayment program is available and to discuss possible mortgage-relief options. For information about forbearances and other mortgage-relief options. See https://oag.ca.gov/consumers/homeowner-issues
- Homeowners insurance may cover the cost of temporary housing. Save your hotel and food receipts and contact your insurance company right away. The Red Cross may also offer temporary shelter in your area after a disaster. You may also apply for assistance from FEMA if a disaster has been declared.
- Homeowners insurance may cover rebuilding or repairing your home. If your insurance claim has been denied, ask your insurance company about the appeals process and request a written copy of their reason for denying your claim. You may wish to contact an attorney or ask for help from the California Department of Insurance at http://www.insurance.ca.gov/01-consumers/101-help/
- If you need to rebuild your home, hire a licensed contractor to help avoid financial risk and other issues that may arise with unlicensed contractors. Anyone who acts as contractor in a federal or state disaster area without an active license could face felony charge. To check the validity of a contractor’s license and to learn more about how to avoid getting scammed, see https://www.cslb.ca.gov/OnlineServices/CheckLicenseII/CheckLicense.aspx
Tips to Find a New Home
- Your local area may be subject to price gouging protections if a state of emergency has been declared. Landlords, hotels, stores, contractors, and others may be prohibited from raising rents or prices by more than 100%. For more information about price gouging, see https://oag.ca.gov/consumers/pricegougingduringdisasters
- Don’t be the victim of a scam! Always see a rental unit in person before signing a lease or sending large amounts of money. Scammers may demand money for an apartment that does not exist or may show you one unit but rent you a different unit in worse condition. Legitimate landlords may ask for a small fee for tenant screening, but they should not insist that you pay the security deposit or first month’s rent before you have seen the unit and signed a lease.
- If someone insists you pay with cash, gift cards, or by wire transfer, it may be a scam. To learn how to spot a scam, see https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/how-avoid-scam
Preparing for Disaster
- Pack a “go bag” with IDs and important documents such as insurance policies, a copy of your lease, family photographs, birth and marriage certificates, and immigration documents. Also pack an emergency supply kit: view this FEMA checklist and this California Department of Public Health checklist for what to include.
- Come up with an emergency plan for your family and for your pets/livestock.
- Renters insurance or homeowners insurance may help after a disaster. Insurance may cover lost or destroyed personal property, as well as the cost of temporary housing.
- Keep your receipts and take photos of electronics, furniture, and other valuable items in your home. Photos and receipts could be useful if you are asking your insurance company to replace lost items.
- Check the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services website for tips about how to prepare for a disaster and where to get help if a disaster occurs.
- Find out whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is offering assistance in your area at disasterassistance.gov.
- Tenants and homeowners can learn more and find help at Disaster Legal Assistance Collaborative.
- If you are in a dispute with your landlord or insurance company after a disaster, you may need to speak with a lawyer. To find a free or low-cost legal aid office near where you live, visit LawHelpCA.org. If you do not qualify for legal aid, you may also obtain a referral to a certified lawyer referral service by contacting the California State Bar.
- Learn about general tenant protections, including limits on rent increases and evictions, at the Attorney General’s Landlord-Tenant Issues website.
- To notify the Attorney General’s Office of violations, visit oag.ca.gov/report. Although the Attorney General’s Office cannot represent or provide legal advice to individuals, complaints from concerned Californians are critical to developing information about patterns and practices Californians face statewide.