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Hurricane season: What property managers can do before, during, and after extreme weather

Industry News & Events Maintaining Your Properties

Unless you are a lumberjack or a tree surgeon, the sound of a chainsaw can be vaguely unsettling. For millions of U.S. property owners, however, the noise of whirring blades is likely to be a familiar one as they come to terms with a hurricane season that has been a record-breaker for all the wrong reasons.

As you might expect from recent extreme weather events that left a trail of devastation across not only several U.S. states, but also a number of islands in the Caribbean, the 2017 hurricane season is a perfect example of Mother Nature flexing her muscles. Irrespective of whether you believe in climate change or not, storms don’t care about hurricane damage to rental properties or others’ homes; they just batter whatever gets in their way.

Hurricane Tips for Rental Properties

For property managers, owners, and residents, preparing for hurricane damage to rental properties is key–no matter what category the storm might be. A good place to start is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website, which has excellent checklists to help you prepare for, survive, and recover from hurricanes.

Once a major weather event arrives, it’s often too late to wander out into the streets and start battening down the hatches. With no sense of irony, September 2017 was designated as “National Preparedness Month,” which came with its own tagline: “Disasters Don’t Plan Ahead. You Can.”

When it comes to finding hurricane tips for rental properties, FEMA has a wealth of information that property managers, owners, and residents will need to know before the time comes to either evacuate or ride out the storm.

That’s the good news.

However, boarding up windows, cutting back branches from trees, and making sure that valuable items are not at risk from flooding is all well and good, but if a 130 mph wind hits your property… then all of your good and sensible prep-time might have gone (literally) out the window. This is the unfortunate situation that many property owners, managers, and residents have found themselves in this month.

The Aftermath of the 2017 Hurricane Season

The BBC reported that Hurricane Maria, for example, was on course to double down on the destruction that her sister Irma recently caused, with the third major Atlantic hurricane of the 2017 season expected to bring chaos and devastation to islands such as Puerto Rico and the Turks and Caicos. Debris that was already in the streets would be “potential airborne ammunition,” the news source said.

And with future hurricanes widely expected to be far more powerful than ones we have experienced in the past, then it is extremely likely that property owners, managers, and residents will go through this nightmare scenario again in their lifetimes.

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Take Hurricane Irma, for example. Her recent symphony of destruction was especially prevalent across the Caribbean, but she saved much of her fury for the Florida Keys. Parts of the low-lying and connected islands lost both power and connectivity as Irma blew into town, with around 2.5 million utility customers left sweltering in 90-degree heat as crews worked on repairing hurricane damage to power lines, CNN said.

Millions of people lost power in the southeastern United States, while over 90% of the homes on the tiny Caribbean island of Barbuda were categorized as “uninhabitable” by the local government. Necker Island—owned by Sir Richard Branson—was devastated by Irma, with the Virgin Atlantic CEO emerging from his concrete wine cellar to find that most of the buildings and vegetation were no longer there, the BBC reported. Which sucks for Sir Richard, but at least he has the funds to rebuild.

So how can property managers and owners recover from hurricane damage to rental properties? Let’s talk about what the aftermath of a major storm looks like, and what the process for rebuilding might consist of in your area.

Hurricane Damage to Rental Properties: How to Recover

How do you deal with cleaning up after an extreme weather event like Hurricane Irma or Maria, and what should your priorities be when you are (hopefully) able to return to your property?

The first thing to bear in mind is that you should only go home when local officials say it is safe to do so. Yes, you want to get back and see for yourself whether or not you and your residents actually have a roof over your head; but rushing back may not be the sensible option. A monster of a storm such as Irma will result in downed trees, power lines, and flooded roads and points of access; so it is crucial that you go home when the time is right.

Re-entry to an evacuated area will follow certain guidelines based on your state, county, level of priority access, and amount of damage. It could take some time for an affected area to return to normalcy.

Essential personnel such as law enforcement, emergency fire and medical services, utility workers, and damage assessment teams (which will likely include insurance assessors) will be the first to witness the damage, followed by residents and what are deemed to be critical businesses—banks, building supply companies, food services, gas stations, contractors, and property managers.

After these people have dealt with the hurricane’s aftermath, then non-resident staff of non-critical businesses—say, baristas, bartenders, and Apple store staff—and non-resident property owners will be allowed to visit. The general public and those looking for a photo opportunity (including politicians) will be the last people waved through by local officials.

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Once the all-clear has been given, there are numerous disaster response websites that have hurricane tips for property managers and others in the community. The Red Cross, for example, has an extremely detailed guide covering not only the process of returning home, but also what to do when you assess hurricane damage to rental properties in the cold light of day.

These tips include the items that you should have on hand when you first step through what remains of your door; the precautions to observe during the first inspection; and the steps you will need to take to remediate hurricane damage to rental properties. To the naked eye, a property may appear to have sustained minimal damage. If so, then the property manager or resident could have dodged a bullet.

According to The Red Cross, the first inspection will reveal just how lucky (or unlucky) a person has been. For example, hurricane damage to rental properties may have impacted the foundation of the building, and water may be trapped in the ceiling or floor. In addition, any amount of flooding will have introduced mold into the equation, which presents serious health issues.

As an added bonus, animals (including snakes and rodents) may have taken shelter in the property during the weather event… and very few people really want to share their space with a snake for an unspecified amount of time.

Hurricane Damage to Rental Properties: Insurance Considerations

Hopefully, property managers, owners, and residents have some level of insurance. Granted, insurance companies are not known for their willingness to pay claims quickly; but when it comes to hurricane damage to rental properties, insured property owners should make the call to their insurance representative sooner rather than later.

In simple terms, this means finding out whether the property insurance policy you paid money for is worth the paper that it’s printed on. For millions of property owners who have—or thought they had—insurance, this may be the first time that they have read the details of their policy. If that is the case, they could be in a for a devastating shock.

A number of home or property insurance policies have stringent terms and conditions regarding extreme weather events, especially for those that come with flooding. The total cost of Hurricane Irma—which made landfall in Florida mere days after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, let’s not forget—will be in the billions, so insurance companies are already thinking about the effect of the hurricane season on their balance sheets.

The flip side of the coin is that people buy insurance for peace of mind, a scenario that is achieved when the policy does what it is supposed to do—which is to pay claims and (in theory, at least) alleviate some of the short-term issues presented by hurricane damage to rental properties.

While Irma and Maria are likely to be record-holders for the foreseeable future, it is worth knowing that hurricane season is an annual event. Remember: Disasters don’t plan ahead… but we can. We wish you the best of luck in recovering from hurricane damage to rental properties and the rest of your community–let us know how you’re doing in the comments.

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David Bolton

David Bolton

Dave Bolton is a freelance journalist and blogger who moved to Massachusetts from London in 2009. He has written local news for AOL, video gaming for Bostinno, and was a Senior Tech Writer at Boston-based Brafton Media. His most recently published work was as the writer for ARC from Applause, a brand and app developer news resource that covered significant aspects of the digital and apps economy.

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