Once you've found a suitable rental, you'll want to sign a lease or rental agreement (oral understandings are legally enforceable but unwise, because they're hard to prove if there's a disagreement). Here's the difference between the two, and why it matters:
As best you can, consider which arrangement is better for you (assuming the landlord gives you a choice). Keep in mind that rebuilding a house can easily take several months, especially with architects and contractors suddenly in short supply. If the market is tight and you think it will continue to be so, you might benefit from a lease, knowing that the rent will be locked in and that if you leave, the landlord won't have much trouble finding a replacement tenant. However, know that the rent-gouging law referred to above covers only tenancies that run month to month, not leases.
Housing law has changed greatly over the past 20 or even ten years; among the many advances are fair housing laws that protect all applicants from discrimination on the basis of familial status (families with children), disability, and gender.
You may need to call upon fair housing law if, for example, you encounter a landlord who has set an overly restrictive occupancy limit, perhaps trying to keep out families. In general, landlords must allow two persons per bedroom (in California , the rule is "two per bedroom plus one"). If your family of three is willing to live in a one-bedroom apartment, the landlord is on thin ice by declaring it's too small.
The landlord's major responsibility is to provide and maintain a safe and habitable home. This means that if the roof leaks, the toilet doesn't work, or the hot water is scalding, you're entitled to repairs. Other important tenant rights include the right to a rental that's reasonably secure from criminal intrusion, and the right to privacy (many states limit the reasons, and time, a landlord may enter your home, and set specific notice periods). Especially if you'll be a renter for a substantial period of time, you'd be well advised to learn the rules (see "Resources," below).
You'll be leaving this rental when your home is rebuilt, repaired, or you choose another. Make sure you're in line to get that security deposit back and leave with no lingering hassles with the landlord. You're expected to return the rental in the same condition as when you rented it, normal wear and tear excepted. If you damage the property, the landlord can deduct from the security deposit for repairs.
While you're a renter, you need to protect the items that you're purchasing to get on with your life. Talk to your insurance agent about adding a renters' policy to your existing homeowners' policy (it shouldn't cost much).
While you're a renter, make sure you understand your rights -- and your responsibilities. Check out these resources from Nolo:
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