Renters and landlords alike may be wondering what steps they need to take if their property was damaged in Hurricane Harvey-related flooding.
The Houston Chronicle reports that as many as 120,000 apartment units across the region have been damaged in floods related to Hurricane Harvey. Flood damage will affect both the renters who called these apartments home and the owners who need to repair or rebuild their properties. This number is even bigger when you consider the thousands of single-family homes, duplexes, and triplexes that were also damaged during the hurricane and flooding.
Do Renters Have To Pay Rent
Under Texas law, landlords are required to provide livable housing under the legal doctrine called “implied warranty of habitability”. Implied warranty of habitability refers to the safety and health of a tenant while living in a property. In Texas, under certain circumstances, a renter may contract the repairs and deduct the cost of the repair from rent, commonly known as repair and deduct.
In general it is illegal to withhold rent in Texas (Texas Property Code Sec. 92.058. Landlord Remedy For Tenant Violation). That means that even if your property was damaged and is currently uninhabitable, you will need to continue paying rent until your lease is officially terminated.
Repair and Deduct Tips for Renters
Repair and deduct information can be found under Texas Property Code Sec. 92.0561 Tenant’s Repair and Deduct Remedies. It’s important to note that in order for a renter to qualify for repair and deduct, he has to be current on rent, the repair must be under $500, the renter must have made adequate official request notices to his landlord, and allowed a reasonable amount of time for the landlord to make the repair himself.
In the case of Hurricane Harvey, since there are so many damaged properties, it is reasonable to expect repair timelines to take longer than usual and for a lot of repairs exceeding the $500 limit; so repair and deduct might not be an option for most renters.
Texas Tenant Advisors recommends renters take careful steps when taking legal action against a landlord regarding repairs, claiming that “if [renters] improperly terminate your lease or deduct repair costs from your rent you could expose yourself to liability, or eviction.”
Tips for Renters
“The state of Texas is about to undergo one of the largest recovery-housing missions that the nation has ever seen,” FEMA Administrator Brock Long said during a news conference Monday. “It’s a long process. Housing is going to be very frustrating in Texas. We have to set the expectations.”
For displaced survivors, FEMA’s goal is to move them out of shelters and into temporary housing near where they work, and then a return to a permanent residence, Long said. Anyone in a shelter or without financial means to replace their housing in 18 counties qualifying for individual disaster assistance can receive aid for a motel or to rent an apartment.
TexasLawHelp.org provides the following advice for renters whose rental property is damaged or destroyed by a disaster.
Ask what repairs needed, how long they will take, and if you have to leave the property while the repairs are being done. If your landlord moved because of the disaster, don’t send a rent payment until you are sure that your landlord will receive it. A pending a FEMA application doesn’t excuse your obligation to pay rent.
The Houston Chronicle provides the offered the following advice provided by the Houston-based apartment investment and property management firm Better World Properties:
- Rent is still due and late fees may still apply.
- A lease may be void if the unit is uninhabitable and a comparable transfer is not available.
- Most renters insurance policies do not cover flood damage.
- Residents who abandon their apartment may lose their security deposit and be held liable for future rent.
FOR PROPERTY MANAGERS AND OWNERS
- Fair housing rules still apply.
- Many residents will struggle with rent payments. Some owners will waive late fees, some may not.
- When flooded residents transfer to dry units, it is recommended that all the parties cancel the first lease and sign a new one.
- If a comparable unit is not available for transfer, management may offer a different unit at a different price.
- If the non-comparable unit is refused, the resident may cancel without penalty, depending on the amount of damage.
- Recovery work should begin almost immediately, subject to labor and materials availability and insurance company approval.
- Management will typically make a courtesy call to notify absent residents that their belongings must be removed, but the lease allows that anything not removed may be disposed of without further discussion.
- Management may put items in storage and charge the resident.
- How quickly can units be brought back on line is a major concern.
- Owners are not responsible for resident’s vehicles or personal possessions.
- Owners of buildings taken out of service may cancel a lease with a five-day notice.
I understand that this is a difficult situation to manage for both renters and property owners. It is advised that everyone be patient and work with each other to figure out the best solution.
Renters, investors, landlords, and property managers in affected areas are advised to seek licensed legal assistance in their area for more advice on Texas rental laws. This article was written for informational purposes only and does not constitute as legal advice.
Rentec Direct seeks to ease the burden of handling a difficult situation by providing this information. We wish to express our greatest empathy and sympathy to all those affected by Hurricane Harvey.