The Gulf Today - Business - - Special Report11 -

OR­LANDO: On a Sun­day ear­lier this month, Emily Moll and her friend watched a tele­vised New York Giants game with no idea they were about to lose their rental home, pos­ses­sions and hopes to pur­chase in the next year. Then Hur­ri­cane Irma struck Cen­tral Florida.

“I know it was only a rental,” said Moll, 24. “But we were build­ing our life, build­ing our things. We were plan­ning on buy­ing a house.”

The plight of Or­lando-area renters sheds light on a new set of post-irma re­al­i­ties rent pay­ments on un­in­hab­it­able homes and apart­ments, chal­lenges get­ting rent de­posits re­funded and few hous­ing op­tions in a tight rental mar­ket.

“It’s kind of like be­ing stuck in the mud right now,” said Jay My­ers, owner of Or­lando Realty and Prop­erty Man­age­ment. “You just have to work your way through it.”

Of the 600 Cen­tral Florida rental prop­er­ties his group man­ages, only about 1.5 per cent were va­cant lead­ing up to Irma. That sup­ply has tight­ened fur­ther with dam­aged prop­er­ties. Also, res­i­dents of Naples and other harder-hit ar­eas have started look­ing for rentals in Or­lando, My­ers said. The ad­van­tage goes to ten­ants with pay stubs and tax re­turns in hand but, even then, the process has slowed, he added.

Moll and Ryan Rose, 26, had to sud­denly leave their home as Irma swept through the Or­lando area early Sept. 11. An old pecan tree crushed the house Rose had rented for three years. Moll said it sounded like a car crash­ing into the house, break­ing glass as it fell into the liv­ing room.

Af­ter smelling smoke, Rose called 911. A record­ing of the call cap­tured his de­spair: “I don’t know if the mid­dle of my house is go­ing to col­lapse. Oh my God.”

Fire­fight­ers re­sponded within 10 min­utes and told the cou­ple to evac­u­ate. The cou­ple crammed a few be­long­ings into bags and grabbed their Chi­huahua mix and two dogs owned by a room­mate who was away. They left in their room­mate’s Ta­hoe SUV, dodg­ing downed trees en route to a friend’s house.

Their hopes of get­ting back all of the $1,500 de­posit on their rental were dashed in part be­cause Rose’s lease ex­empted re­funds for nat­u­ral dis­as­ters. The land­lord told the Or­lando Sen­tinel he was try­ing to work with them on a de­posit re­fund.

Or­lando at­tor­ney Justin Clark said the lease clause about nat­u­ral dis­as­ters isn’t all that com­mon but just another chal­lenge renters may face when their house be­comes in­hab­it­able. He sug­gested ten­ants dis­cuss op­tions for dis­counted rent or a short break on rent.

“A dam­aged prop­erty is in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult for both the land­lord and ten­ant,” Clark said. “The land­lord is forced to pay for re­pairs often out of pocket while still also pay­ing the mort­gage. The ten­ant still has to pay the rent while not happy with the liv­ing sit­u­a­tion.”

To help find funds so they could lease an apart­ment, Moll said she called The Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency (FEMA), only to be told she was in­el­i­gi­ble for aid un­til she set­tled with her rental in­sur­ance. They out­lined $5,300 in dam­ages to their fur­nish­ings and be­long­ings. The in­sur­ance com­pany agreed to pay $3,300. The cou­ple started an on­line fundrais­ing cam­paign and quickly reached their goal of $3,000 with help mostly from friends and fam­ily mem­bers.

“We did as much as we could and helped out,” said Ryan’s fa­ther, New York res­i­dent Michael Cuoco. “... Of course FEMA has to help a lot of peo­ple but how much worse could it be than los­ing ev­ery­thing?”

Moll and Rose have been in Cen­tral Florida’s hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try for years, serv­ing meals and bev­er­ages to lo­cals and vis­i­tors. Rose works at a Dis­ney ho­tel restau­rant and another restau­rant. Moll works as a nanny and Uber driver, try­ing to com­plete her as­so­ciate’s de­gree at Semi­nole State Col­lege. They went from en­joy­ing their own place to shar­ing a three-bed­room house with Rose’s fam­ily, in­clud­ing his three younger sib­lings and three cats. It’s un­clear how long it would take to re­build the house they rented on a month-to-month ba­sis.

Last-minute apart­ment hunt­ing is par­tic­u­larly tough in one of the coun­try’s strong­est rental mar­kets. Only about 5 per cent of Or­lando-area units are va­cant.

Prop­erty man­agers did not re­turn calls from Moll seek­ing an im­me­di­ate open­ing on rentals. But CBRE vice chair­man Shel­ton Granade said new com­plexes are com­ing on line but there may be a price to pay.

“There are def­i­nitely units avail­able, and new sup­ply in the pipeline in var­i­ous sub­mar­kets, but the high oc­cu­pancy likely sug­gests that prospec­tive renters will see higher lease rates than they would have seen 12, six, or even three months ago,” he said.

Rent at their old rental was $1,700, with three room­mates shar­ing ex­penses. Post-irma, Moll and Rose found a two-bed­room apart­ment for $1,500 but will have to split it two ways once they move in. Their room­mate is likely to face chal­lenges find­ing a rental with his two larger dogs, Rose said.

In a rare pro­gramme aimed at renters re­build­ing their lives af­ter a dis­as­ter, HUD of­fers a no-down­pay­ment mort­gage that for­gives many credit is­sues. Rob Nun­zi­ata, pres­i­dent of FBC Mort­gage, said HUD’S 203(H) home loan opens rare op­por­tu­ni­ties for renters who lost their homes in the dis­as­ter.

Few, though, know about it, he added. Moll and Rose said Irma left them un­set­tled about im­me­di­ate plans but they said they would in­ves­ti­gate the dis­as­ter-re­lated mort­gage.

They worry their hopes of fine­tun­ing their credit to qual­ify for an af­ford­able mort­gage dur­ing the next year might be dashed. She said she was three classes from com­plet­ing her as­so­ciate’s de­gree. She said she was sav­ing up to reg­is­ter for spring classes but might not be able to take them. “We were work­ing so hard and now it’s back to square one,” she said.

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