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How does an act of god affect a rental agreement?

Nashville, TN |

My tenant was forced to vacate after the May floods.What obligation do I have to return his security deposit? The year lease had not yet expired.

Thank you.

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Attorney answers 3

Best Answer

Give him back his deposit. He got flooded out. Assuming it was a residence--you don't say--it was made uninhabitable by the flood. The warranty of habitability is implied in a residential rental agreement. An act of God is a defense to breach, which means a suit against him for leaving before the lease was up would almost certainly be unsuccessful. I as a juror or judge would be very annoyed at you if you didn't give him his deposit back.

Suppose the place was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. Can you imagine the landlord prevailing in a lawsuit for breach of the lease?

Not legal advice as I don't practice in Tennessee. It's just my two cents. If you need legal advice, please consult a lawyer who holds Tennessee licensure.



It is a residence by the way, and I already returned his deposit. Now he wants the month's rent he paid prior to the flood. He paid his rent on the first, got washed out on the second. I spent three months, seven days a week working to get the place ready to rent again. He walked away with a big FEMA check.

L. Maxwell Taylor

L. Maxwell Taylor


I'd give that month's rent back to him too if I were you. He didn't get the benefit of the bargain. The FEMA check has nothing to do with anything.



What might lawyer fees be if the tenant decided to take me to court in this case? Thank you.


I agree with the above answer, especially in light of the facts you provided in the comments.

In landlord/tenant cases, the notion of 'reasonableness' usually wins the day. And while it may be hard to find anything particularly 'reasonable' in the circumstance of a major flooding, the same is true for both parties here.

While you could retain the month's rent, you could also easily be sued and made to go to court by the former tenant, and potentially face damages and/or attorney fees if you lost.

Given that the tenant vacated the next day, it seems perfectly reasonable to return the rent. Or, perhaps you could withhold an amount prorated for the single day of occupancy, if you were really insistent, but even that is splitting heirs, so to speak. (Consider, of course, that you wouldn't have had any rent money to return if the tenant hadn't promptly paid you on the 1st of the month in the first place.)

If you found this answer helpful, please click the 'up' button below. This message is informational only and is not intended to be legal advice, nor does it form the basis for any attorney-client relationship whatsoever, which can only be formed upon signing an Engagement Agreement and depositing a Retainer Fee. Further, I am only licensed in Oregon and laws vary state to state. Please consult an attorney in your area for legal advice.


If your (residential) tenant moved out because of the flooding (health and safety reason) then they had a valid right to terminate the lease agreement, you should return the deposits as per the normal move out terms of the agreement. You cannot collect any flood damage repair from the tenant.

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