Last week’s winter storms left many North Texas renters with extensive damage and, in some cases, unlivable conditions. Many are left wondering what to do next and what their options are.
She thought she was out of the woods and a three-day power outage was over.
“I finally sat down to eat a hot meal at 7 o’clock that night, Wednesday, and had about three bites of soup when all of the sudden my cat jumped and looked beneath my feet and there was water streaming below my feet,” Jennifer Styers said.
“It is all over my floor, coming out of my ceiling, my whole upstairs,” she said.
And this wasn’t even the worst of what happened at Styers’ Dallas apartment complex.
At Bailey Burlison’s unit next door, the ceiling collapsed creating unlivable conditions.
“All I could think was oh my gosh,” Burlison said. “Luckily, I have family here so they’ve been helping me. It’s been very difficult on figuring out what I’m going to do next because it’s literally everyone dealing with the same thing.”
“I feel like renters need to know their rights,” Styers said.
For Texas renters going through these situations, legal experts say you do have rights but there are some steps you need to follow.
“First of all, the tenant has a duty to pay rent and the landlord’s obligation to make repairs is triggered after the tenant’s duty,” Huma Yasin, with Legal Aid of Northwest Texas, said.
Legal Aid of Northwest Texas advises tenants write a letter to the landlord that gives a detailed notice of the damage either in person or through the mail, provide pictures if possible and try to send through certified mail if you can. Keep a record for yourself.
“If you don’t send it certified mail, return receipt requested, you can send it through regular mail,” Yasin said. “You will need to send it twice. Waiting a minimum of one week in between.”
All of the steps are laid out in detail in their tenant repair request packet.
As noted in the request packet, the law requires the landlord act quickly. If repairs are not being made in a timely manner, the tenant ultimately has the right to terminate their lease or can sue the landlord for repairs in justice court.
“Many renters have rental insurance (they may be required to carry it as part of their lease), so they should also look to their policies to try to get coverage,” Yasin said. “The relevant Texas Property Code Provisions are – 92.052 and 92.056.”
She said filing a lawsuit isn’t the only way to get a release of lease. A renter can always negotiate that with their landlord.
“I would advise a signed writing by both parties to ensure that the release of lease is legally enforceable,” she said. “As always, if they need legal advice, they can apply for services from Legal Aid of Northwest Texas.”