What should I know about homeowner and renter rights after a disaster?

Authored By: GeorgiaLegalAid.org
Read this in: Spanish / Español


Help for homeowners and renters after a disaster in Georgia


What happens if my home is damaged during a disaster?

If your home is damaged or destroyed during a disaster, whether you are a renter or homeowner, the first priority is your safety.


If you need immediate help, contact:


Once you are safe, you may need to address damage to your home, or financial losses due to the disaster. 

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What are a homeowner’s rights and responsibilities after a disaster?

  • Paying your mortgage. You are responsible for paying your mortgage even if your house is damaged during a disaster. This is true even if you are unable to live in it.  

  • Filing with your insurance. Before you can get help from most government agencies, you must first file an insurance claim. 

    • Most insurance companies will only reimburse for reasonable costs of repair. Remember that your claim will only be approved to the extent that it does not exceed your policy limits. If you undertake repairs at an inflated price, you will unnecessarily reach your maximum policy limit very quickly. If prices quoted for repairs appear inflated, get another estimate and 4 obtain the insurance company’s agreement to the cost before undertaking repairs.

  • Filing for FEMA and SBA help. You have the right to apply for FEMA housing grant or a Small Business Association loan if:

    • You have needs that your insurance doesn't cover and 

    • Your area has been declared a federal disaster area.

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What are a renter’s rights and responsibilities after a disaster? 

  • Read your lease. Read your lease to find out what it says about natural disasters. Look for portions about:

    • Rent abatement. This will tell you  are able to stop paying or only pay partial rent until the damage is fixed.

    • Lease termination. This will tell you under what circumstances you can terminate the lease. 

  • Paying your rent. In general, you should not have to pay rent if your rental home is not livable. But this may not be the case. Talk to your landlord before you stop paying rent.

    • If the unit is damaged, but you can still live there, you will likely still be responsible for paying your rent.

  • Notify your landlord of damage. If your unit is damaged, you need to notify the landlord of the damage verbally and in writing. 

    • Your landlord must make any necessary repairs to the unit. The law says they have a “reasonable amount of time” to make those repairs.

    • Generally, a landlord will not be required to pay you if part of your home is unusable temporarily. 

      • However, you should still ask your landlord for compensation for your loss and inconvenience.  

  • Ask for a release from your lease. If you want to move, ask the landlord to give you a written document releasing you from the lease. The only way to completely get out of a lease is if the lease is terminated.

  • Contact the housing code inspector. If your landlord does not make repairs within a necessary amount of time, you might want to notify the housing code inspector. A landlord must comply with applicable local housing codes.

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What can I do if I am unable to pay my mortgage after a disaster?

If you have received a written foreclosure notice as a result of disaster-related financial hardship, you may be eligible for: 

  • FEMA money to help with your mortgage payments. 

  • A Small Business Association (SBA) disaster loan to help repair or rebuild your property.

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What can I do if I am unable to pay my rent after a disaster?

If you cannot pay your rent because of a disaster-related financial hardship or if your personal property is damaged, you may be eligible for help from FEMA. 

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How do I apply for FEMA assistance?

Before you apply

Before you apply, FEMA recommends that you:

  • Take pictures of the damages to your house and property,

  • Make a thorough list of all your damaged or lost items,

  • File a claim with your insurance company. Before you can get FEMA help, you have to file an insurance claim (if you have insurance).


Documents needed

To apply, you will need:

  • Proof of ID,

  • Proof that you rent or own the property that was damaged,

  • An insurance determination letter. 



You can apply for FEMA’s IHP assistance or check your application status:

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What happens after I apply for FEMA assistance?

After you apply for FEMA assistance:

  • Within 10 days of your application you will get a phone call from a FEMA Inspector. 

    • Have your registration number on hand. The inspector will ask about the damage.

    • If you reported minimal damage to you will not get a call. You will get a letter informing you of your next steps.

  • Within 10 days of the inspector’s call, you will be sent a decision letter.

    • If you are eligible for assistance, your letter will tell you the amount and how it will be used.

  • You will get any award money via:  

    • U.S. Treasury Check or 

    • Direct deposit. 

  • You may also be referred to the U.S. Small Business Administration for a low-interest loan. You DO NOT have to apply for this loan. However, you will not be eligible for some FEMA assistance if you do not apply.

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How do I appeal a FEMA decision?

Once a decision is made on your application, you will get an eligibility notification letter. If you disagree with the decision, you have the right to appeal.

  • You must appeal within 60 days of the date on your eligibility letter.

  • You must include with your appeal:

    • Your full name. Your FEMA Application Number and Disaster Number. Your pre-disaster primary address. Your current address and phone number

    • A written statement that explains why the decision is wrong.

    • Copies of any documents that support your statement.

  • Send the appeal:

    • By mail. FEMA, PO BOX 10044, Hyattsville, MD 20782-8055

    • By fax. Attn: FEMA Appeals Officer, 1-800-827-8112

  • You will get a decision on your appeal within 90 days. 

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How do I apply for a SBA disaster loan?


The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) also offers low-interest disaster loans to people in a declared disaster area. This loan can be used to:

  • Repair or replace your primary residence (up to $200,000),

  • Refinance all or part of your previous mortgage, or

  • Repair or replace personal property (up to $40,000).


To be eligible for a SBA Home and Personal Property Loan:

  • Your primary residence must be in the federally declared disaster area.

  • File an insurance claim if you have insurance. 

  • Apply for FEMA assistance.


If you are a homeowner or renter and you want to apply for a SBA loan, you first have to apply with FEMA.



After you’ve completed your FEMA application, you can apply for a SBA loan:


After you apply

After you apply, the SBA will:

  • Review your credit,

  • Estimate the total physical loss to your property,

  • Determine your eligibility, and 

  • Contact you to discuss your loan recommendation and the next steps.


If you qualify for a loan, you will then get the Loan Closing Documents and disburse your loan amount. 


If you do not qualify for a loan, you will automatically be referred to FEMA’s Other Needs Assistance (ONA) program. This potentially qualifies you for financial assistance for car damage, moving and storage, and personal property damage. 

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How can I preserve my claims and protect my rights to repayment from insurance coverage? 

  • If you have an insurance policy which you think may cover your damage, call your insurance company as soon as possible. Report your loss, even if you are not sure that there is coverage or if you do not know if the claim will exceed the deductible.

  • Make sure you write down the name of the person you speak with and the client number they will give you. 

  • If you cannot get through to your insurance company by telephone, write them a letter telling them of your loss. Be sure to keep a copy of your letter. 

  • If you cannot find the insurance policy, contact your agent, broker, or insurance company.

  • If you do not know the name of your homeowner’s insurance company, call your bank or mortgage holder. 

  • If you do not know the name of your car insurance company, call the Department of Motor Vehicles. 

  • If you cannot stay in your home, make sure you give the insurance agent or representative your new address and telephone number.

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Tips & Terms


Tips for repairing your home after a disaster

You must protect yourself, your family, and your property. The following are things that you can do to accomplish this: 

  • If you need home repairs, get several estimates in writing from different contractors before signing anything. 

  • Prior to signing with any contractor for repairs, obtain names and addresses of previous customers, and check with them to see if they were satisfied with the contractor’s work. Furthermore, check with the Better Business Bureau concerning any information it might have on the contractor’s reputation. 

  • Find out if the contractor is licensed to do business in your community. Is the contractor bonded (insured against claims that might arise against him/her for improper repairs and/or acting in an unprofessional manner)? How long has the contractor been in business, i.e., several years or just since the disaster occurred? 

  • When you decide on a contractor to make your home repairs, make sure everything you discuss and agree upon is in writing. Be sure that you understand exactly what your contract provides for 7 and what it does not. 

  • All work to be completed by the contractor should be specifically written in the contract, outlining materials to be used (description of materials); work to be completed in each room; and equipment to be replaced, such as major type, model numbers, manufacturers of the equipment and appliances. Any warranties, guarantees, and promises the contractor makes should be in writing in your contract. You should also obtain copies of any manufacturer’s warranties from your contractor. 

  • Never agree to pay the full contract price up front (before work is substantially completed and done properly). If a contractor is unwilling to make the repairs unless he/she is paid up front, then get another contractor, one who will accept payment in installments (the payment of a certain amount of the total price on set dates or in intervals, based on the amount of work completed). 

  • If the contractor’s work must be inspected by your municipality to make sure it meets a code or ordinance, make final payment contingent upon the work passing that inspection. 

  • Make sure you understand your payment terms with the contractor and that the terms are written in the contract. If payments are to be made in 8 installments, be sure that the contract specifies the amounts to be paid, the dates for the installment payments, the work to be completed by those dates, and what will happen if the specified work is not completed by the installment dates. If you give the contractor a security interest in your home, you are giving him the right to make a monetary claim against your home in the event that you do not pay him. 

  • Make sure the contract includes in writing a start date and a completion date, and what will happen if these dates are not met. 

  • Make sure that when the work is completed and you are ready to pay, that you obtain a lien waiver from your original contractor. If you live on your property and it has two units or less, a subcontractor can only place a lien on your property after giving you notice. You may then withhold the disputed amount from the contractor.

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Last Review and Update: Jul 31, 2023
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