New Mexico Legal Aid

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Common Housing Issues After a Disaster

  • Lease terminations and evictions.
  • Home foreclosures.
  • Rent subsidy programs.
  • Landlord’s refusal to make repairs.
  • Utility shutoffs.
  • Insurance claims and disputes.
  • Proving home ownership or rental unit occupancy.
  • Home repair contractor scams (such as not completing their work).
  • Price gouging by businesses (extreme price hikes for repairs and supplies).
  • Security deposit disputes.


Lease Terminations and Evictions

You may need to end your lease early and live somewhere else if there is damage to your home or a change in your job status. You may have a landlord who wants to force you to move out, even though you don’t want to leave.

  • Your ability to end the lease early after a disaster – so you can move without paying any more of the rent – depends on several factors, including:
    • The content of your lease. Some leases provide options for ending the lease early. You might find this content in a section of the lease titled “termination provisions.”
    • Your landlord. Your landlord could simply agree to let you end the lease early, no matter what the lease says. If so, get this agreement in writing.
    • The amount of damage to your home and how long it will take to repair it. Most state laws say tenants have the right to safe and livable housing, no matter what the lease says.
    • NM Resident’s 7-Day Notice of Termination of Lease

After a disaster, some landlords try to rent a property at a higher rate, so they evict tenants to make room for someone who can afford to pay more. Some landlords see an opportunity to illegally evict tenants when a disaster causes courts to close or tenants to temporarily evacuate.

  • Check your lease. Take a close look at what the lease says about when the landlord has the right to evict you.
  • Check local laws – see this comprehensive New Mexico Renters’ Guide for New Mexico laws governing landlords and tenants.

Rent Subsidy Programs

A disaster may affect your job and income. If you live in public housing or use the federal government’s Section 8 housing choice voucher program, you may be able to get some additional help with your rent payments. The program also might make it easier for you to renew your rental assistance or use your voucher to find a new place to live.

  • If the U.S. president declares a major disaster or emergency for your area, keeping your subsidy may become easier.
  • HUD may let public housing agencies give families one or more extensions of their voucher term.
  • People who live in public housing or receive Section 8 assistance can usually have the rent reduced when they have a loss in income.
  • To get this reduction, you must notify the public housing agency in your area.

If weren’t living in public housing or using the voucher program at the time of the disaster, but you think you may need these services after a disaster,

  • Contact your local public housing agency or your state or territory’s HUD office.
  • Eligibility for these programs is usually based on income, household size, and other factors, such as whether you’re a veteran or have a disability.

Landlord’s Refusal To Make Repairs

If you’re a renter and your home was damaged by a disaster, contact your landlord right away to figure out a plan for getting the damage repaired.

If your landlord refuses to make repairs:

  • Make a written list of everything that was damaged and describe the damage.
  • Take photos and videos.
  • Do this even if you and your landlord agree on repairs.
  • Notify your landlord or property manager by sending a written notice.
    • Should include your list of damages, photos, and videos.
    • Should also include a request to complete the repairs by a specific date.
    • Keep a copy of any communications and documents between you and your landlord, including letters, emails, phone calls, and text messages.
  • If repairs aren’t being made, you could report this lack of action to the local health department or housing code enforcement office.
  • Some leases give you the right to lower your rent payments until your landlord repairs the damage to your home.
    • This language may be in a section of the lease described as “rent abatement.”
  • In NM, tenants have the right to stop paying rent until major damage is repaired.

Security Deposit Disputes

What if the landlord uses the deposit to pay for something it should not be used for or refuses to give it back after you move out?

  • Follow the procedures outlined in your lease agreement.
  • If a disaster caused damage,
    • Document any damage with photos and videos.
    • Make a list of all damage.
    • Keep records of all communications with the landlord.
  • Before turning in your keys to your landlord
    • Document the condition of the empty apartment by taking photos and videos after you’ve removed your belongings and cleaned the apartment.
    • Give your landlord a written notice of your new address.
      • Keep a copy of this notice.
    • Try to reach an agreement by talking to your landlord or property manager.
  • As a last resort, you may want to try to resolve the dispute through mediation or small claims court.


Home Foreclosures

If you’ve lost your job because of the disaster and can’t make a loan payment, you may have options that enable you to keep your home.

  • This is the company you borrowed money from to buy your home. Many lenders will offer a grace period as you recover from a disaster. During this grace period, you may not have to make your monthly payment.

Homeowners Insurance Claims

What if the insurance company says it doesn’t have to help pay for certain repairs? What if the insurance company will help pay, but you don’t think it’s giving you enough money for the repairs?

  • Make a written list of everything that was damaged and describe the damage.
  • Take photos and videos.
  • Collect any receipts you have that show what you paid for things that were damaged.
  • Get estimates for the cost of repairs as soon as you can.
  • Follow the steps explained in your insurance policy for filing a claim.
  • Contact your insurance broker if you have questions.
  • Keep copies of all information you submit.
  • The insurance adjuster is an expert the insurance company often sends to a person’s home to see what has been damaged and how bad the damage is.
  • Be ready with your list of damaged things, purchase dates and receipts, and cost estimates for repair or replacement.
  • Take notes on what things the adjuster does and doesn’t look at when in your home.
  • If you disagree with the decision, contact your insurance agent or the insurance company’s claims department manager.
  • Calmly explain why you disagree.
  • Take notes during the discussion.
    • Include the date and what was said.
  • If you send other documents to the insurance company, keep copies.
  • An insurance ombudsman is someone appointed by the government to investigate consumer complaints.
  • Regulators include state insurance commissions.
  • For insurance complaints in NM, click here.
  • gov’s State Consumer Protection Offices finder includes insurance regulators in its listings.
  • Arbitration and mediation are ways to resolve the dispute without having to file a lawsuit in court.
  • Arbitration and mediation can cost a lot of money.
    • Find out ahead of time how much you might have to pay.
  • You’ll likely need an attorney. These lawsuits can be challenging and complicated.

Utility Shut-Offs

  • Ask if the company has any policies or programs that protect customers from utility shut-offs during emergencies.
  • Look for information on energy assistance programs, consumer protection, or emergency preparedness.
  • In some areas, the law lets you sue for damages if your utilities are shut off improperly.

Proving Home Ownership or Rental Unit Occupancy

  • After a disaster, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) programs are among the primary sources of aid for disaster survivors.
  • To receive most of this assistance, you must prove you own or rent your home and have been living there.
  • Provide your property deed.
    • To request a copy of the deed for your home, contact your county recorder’s office.
  • If you can’t get the deed, you could provide proof with:
  • Mortgage documentation.
  • Homeowners insurance documentation.
  • Property tax receipt or bill.
  • Home purchase contract.
  • Last will and testament (with death certificate) naming you heir to the property.
  • Receipts for major repairs or maintenance dated within five years prior to the disaster.
  • Letter prepared after the disaster from a mobile home park owner or manager.

Visit the FEMA website for more information on proving home ownership.

What if a home is owned by a person who died and the property was not transferred to another person before their death?

  • Probate
    • Legal process for deciding who gets the person’s money and belongings.
    • A probate court will usually oversee the distribution of the money and property to the deceased person’s heirs or beneficiaries.
  • What if many people say they own the home?
  • A court may need to decide, based on the available evidence, who gets to own it.

If you were renting, FEMA will accept any of the following documents as proof that you’ve been living there:

  • Lease or housing agreement.
  • Rent receipts.
  • Utility bill (for example, electricity, gas, water, or sewer).
  • Pay stub.
  • Bank or credit card statement.
  • Driver’s license, state-issued identification card, or voter registration card.
  • Medical provider’s bill.
  • Motor vehicle registration.
  • Affidavit of residency or other court documentation.
  • Documents from a social service organization, such as a welfare agency or Meals on Wheels.
  • Written statement from a public official, such as a police chief or mayor. This statement should include their contact information and your name, address, and when you lived there.
  • Letter or mail delivered to your address from an employer, public official, social service organization, local school or school district, or mobile home park owner or manager.
  • Visit the FEMA website for more information on proving occupancy.
  • If you were renting, FEMA will accept any of the following documents as proof that you’ve been living there:

Additional Resources

How to reach us

If you’re facing a disaster-related legal issue, we’re here to assist you. Here’s how you can contact us:

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