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Author: Brenton McWilliams

I’ve been getting some legal questions from renters (tenants) with damaged homes about the status of the lease, deposits, etc. Above all, I encourage landlords and tenants to work together, be reasonable with each other and understand that this is a difficult situation for each side. The tenant has lost their property and place to live, and the landlord is faced with both the financial loss of the rent and damage and the difficult process of repairing and rebuilding the property. With that said, here is some information that may be helpful for residential renters in Alabama:

If the house, apartment or unit is damaged by the storm (not by tenant) to the “extent that enjoyment of the dwelling unit is substantially impaired,” the tenant has two options.

First, the tenant can immediately move out and send written notice within 14 days of the move out of the tenant’s intention to terminate the lease. If this option is taken, the lease is terminated as of the move out date. Rent ends on the date of the damage (not the move out), and the tenant is entitled to a refund of any prepaid rent prorated from the date of the damage.

Second, if occupancy of the premises is lawful (not condemned and at least part of the premises is in a habitable condition), then the tenant may move out of the part of the premises damaged. If this option is taken, the tenant is entitled to a rent reduction in proportion to the decreased fair rental value of the house, apartment or unit from the damage.

If the lease is terminated by the first option, the landlord is subject to the usual rules for the deposit at the end of a lease. The tenant must give the landlord, in writing, a forwarding address to send the deposit. The landlord must refund the deposit within 60 days after termination of the lease. I any portion of the deposit is withheld by the landlord, the landlord must provide an itemized accounting of the amount withheld within the 60 day period.

Section 35-9A-406

Fire or casualty damage.

(a) If the dwelling unit or premises are damaged or destroyed by fire or casualty not caused by the tenant to an extent that enjoyment of the dwelling unit is substantially impaired, the tenant may:

(1) immediately vacate the premises and notify the landlord in writing within 14 days thereafter of the tenant’s intention to terminate the rental agreement, in which case the rental agreement terminates as of the date of vacating; or

(2) if continued occupancy is lawful, vacate any part of the dwelling unit rendered unusable by the fire or casualty, in which case the tenant’s liability for rent is reduced in proportion to the diminution in the fair rental value of the dwelling unit.

(b) If the rental agreement is terminated pursuant to this section, the landlord shall return all security recoverable under Section 35-9A-201 and all unearned prepaid rent. Accounting for rent in the event of termination or apportionment shall be made as of the date of the fire or casualty.

(Act 2006-316, p. 668, §1.)