How to Prepare for Emergencies
Since renters don’t normally stay in one place as long as their home-owning counterparts, they tend to treat their homes with a sense of impermanence. Renters also have most of the property maintenance taken care of, which pushes the idea of disaster preparedness to the back burner, since the building’s upkeep is not their immediate concern. However, there are several steps and precautions available for renters to prepare themselves for an emergency.
How to Prepare for Emergencies
- Pre-Move-In Inspection: Before you enter into a lease, make sure you thoroughly inspect the potential unit and building to ensure that it is up to code. Important areas to watch for are the condition of doors, windows, and the presence of emergency alarms and precautions, such as smoke detectors and ample fire extinguishers. It’s also a good idea to look into the condition of the heating/cooling, hot water, and plumbing systems. Damage to those systems could result in major damage to your unit and belongings.
- Get Renters’ Insurance: Many renters, especially the younger ones, decide to forgo renters’ insurance if it is not required by the management. Your building management is responsible for structural repairs, but not your belongings. Chances are, you will never reap the benefits of the insurance, but it can be a huge life saver in the event of a real disaster. Allstate Insurance estimates that a monthly payment for renters’ insurance is only sixteen dollars on average. This cost is realistic for even college students on a budget. It’s not a bad idea to check with your current insurance agent to see if you qualify for any discounts pertaining to renters insurance.
- Know Your Neighbors: Most renters live in some sort of community environment and have multiple neighbors. It’s a good idea to get to know the people in your building so that there is support system in place in the event of an emergency. Awareness of elderly individuals living on their own will ensure that everyone receives immediate attention during a disaster. Knowing the names of the children in your building can also be helpful in case they are separated from their parents; they will feel safer staying with you until they can go home. Being an active and friendly neighbor is helpful in case you are injured and unable to leave your home, it’s nice to know that your neighbors have your safety in mind. Perhaps your community should organize a meeting to discuss and plan for an emergency; exchanging emergency contacts is always a good idea.
During the Emergency
- Don’t Use Elevators: If you happen to have the luxury of living in one of those high-rise apartment complexes, you are afforded the convenience of elevators. However, as nice as these modern contraptions are in everyday use, in an emergency, they are your worst enemy. As annoying as that muscle wrenching flights of stairs are, they have the potential to save your life in an earthquake, fire, or power outage. Bottom line: Never attempt to use an elevator in any emergency situation.
- Have Two Ways Out: Most apartments don’t have more than one exit, but it’s imperative to find at least two ways out if at all possible. Draw a floor plan of your residence and mark two escape routes from each room. If you don’t have a door, a window will do. Place a copy of the plan in the bedroom of each family member or in main living areas. Just make sure the plan is easily accessible.
After the Emergency
- Superintendent’s Responsibilities: Your superintendent is responsible for making sure gas lines are in working order, checking to see if anyone needs first aid, and getting the power back on.
- Your Responsibilities: Once it’s safe to return to your apartment, or the power is restored, inspect the interior of your apartment for new cracks, leaks, or other damage. Broken or destroyed belongings are your responsibility; hence the importance of renters’ insurance, but your landlord is responsible for structural damage.
If you cannot live in your apartment and it has been deemed “uninhabitable,” you may be able to legally break your lease, receive a refund, or cease payment. Again, landlord-tenant laws vary by state and city, but most agree that if your rented home or apartment does not supply the basics (electricity, water, heat, plumbing, weatherproofing and a structurally safe and sanitary structure), it is “uninhabitable” and you can choose to leave consequence free.