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Landlords and Tenants: prepare for the next earthquake (or flood or fire) 

We can all use events like today’s DC area earthquake to motivate us to improve our emergency preparedness. The most common natural disasters are flooding and fires. The focus of this article will be legal preparation and understanding who is responsible for what when a rental property is damaged, but obviously the first priority is to protect life.  For information on DC area evacuation procedures, see the DC Government site 72hours.dc.gov. For information and classes on CPR, emergency response, and emergency preparedness, see the American Red Cross of the National Capital Region.  

1) Information

No matter how the damage is caused, if the first responsibility of the tenant is to notify emergency personnel and the landlord of the occurrence.  The landlord needs to make certain the tenants are all accounted for, assess the damage, and inform the tenants of when they can return.  In order to do those things, landlords need accurate, easily accessible records of who lives in their buildings, as fire departments and emergency officials often request such lists.  Tenants can help by keeping the landlord informed of who is living with them, including any pets they have.    

2) Access

Landlords need to have access to all units, including sets of keys for all units.  If a pipe breaks, there is a gas leak, there is a medical emergency, or there is a fire, the landlord must be able to give access to emergency personnel.  If a tenant changes the locks, they should immediately give their landlord a set if keys.     

3) Recovery

Landlords have property insurance for the damages to the property itself, although flood damage is usually not included and it is worth looking at the National Flood Insurance Program to see if you should add flood insurance for your property.  Tenants need to have personal property insurance to cover their belongings, it can and probably should also include flood coverage.  Many leases require it and it is usually inexpensive. 

4) Planning

Lastly, landlords can often make things easier for tenants and themselves if they have information on local and building evacuation plans, emergency preparedness, and tenant insurance available to tenants upon move-in. 

Landlords and tenants can be partners in recovery from disasters.  Proper preparation not only makes getting things back to normal easier, it sets the expectations of who will do what, and limits the need for litigation. 


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