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Disaster and Evictions

How to Help Tenants After a Disaster

Displacement after a disaster takes many forms. Homeowners may have to evacuate for a time but generally can return to their property. Suppose a landlord determines a property is uninhabitable. In that case, tenants can receive a lease termination notice that, under special rules, can demand a tenant leave less than a week after receiving it despite a city having no other available housing. 

Other tenants fall behind on their rent due to lack of work after a disaster and face the threat of eviction for non-payment of rent and potential homelessness. 

What do I do for tenants affected by a disaster?

  1. If the tenant evacuated, the first thing to do is to let the landlord know if the tenant intends to return or not return due to the disaster. In either case, the tenant should provide the landlord with updated contact information (including a phone number, email address, and physical address)
  2. If the tenant wishes to stay and the place is habitable: 
  3. The tenant is entitled to a reduction in the rent in an amount proportionate to the extent premises are unusable. This method is only available by court order. 
  4. The tenant did not cause the damage by negligence or fault (or a member of the tenant’s family, a guest, or invitee).
  5. The tenant does have a right to ask the landlord for repairs.
  6. If the tenant wishes to leave due to the place being uninhabitable:
  7. Landlords or tenants may terminate the lease.
  8. The tenant did not cause the damage by negligence or fault (or a member of the tenant’s family, a guest, or invitee).
  9. Must give written notice to the other party any time before repairs begin.
  10. Upon termination of the lease, the tenant is entitled only to a pro-rata refund of rent from the date the tenant moves out and a refund of any security deposit otherwise required by law.
  11. Provide the landlord with a forwarding address.
  12. Get an agreement of any refund of rent/security deposit in writing.
  13. Source: Texas Property Code Section 92.054(b)

The Right to Ask the Landlord for Repairs

By law, tenants must be current on rent for the landlord to be obligated to repair, but tell them to ask anyway by sending a letter outlining the problem and the repair requested via certified mail. If they are not up to date on their rent, they need to pay it as soon as possible. Whether or not they are current on their rent can determine what their rights are 

When asking the landlord for repairs, be sure to:

  1. Have the tenant take pictures of the conditions that need repair. 
  2. Give written notice to the landlord about the repairs. If sent certified mail, return receipt requested, only one notice is needed. Otherwise, you will need to send a second notice by code. 
  3. Be very specific about the repairs needed in the notice. Keep a copy of the written notice and pictures. 
  4. The landlord has a reasonable time to make repairs, at least seven (7) days unless the repair need is urgent and requires a quicker response (for example, a roof leak or sewage overflow). 
  5. It is usually not a good idea for the tenant to repair the condition or call in a repair person. Special laws apply in these situations. They might not get reimbursed for your time and money. If they make the damage or condition worse, they might have to pay more. 
  6. If the landlord ignores your request or keeps putting off the repairs, you should: 
  7. Make a second written request to your landlord and ask for a written explanation about why repairs haven’t begun. You do not have to send a second notice if you sent the first one by certified mail. 

What kinds of repairs is a landlord required to make? 

  1. Landlords must repair damage caused by:
  2.  Emergencies like fire, hailstorms, hurricanes, and flooding. In these cases, the landlord can wait to make repairs until the insurance company pays the property damage claim.
  3. Any conditions that affect the physical health and safety of ordinary tenants. These could include things like roaches, rats, sewage leaks, roof leaks, faulty electrical wiring, and normal wear and tear to the unit (such as ripped carpeting or broken flooring). 
  4. Landlords are not required to provide security guards. Depending on where the tenant lives, local housing laws may hold landlords to higher repair standards. 
  5. People with disabilities may have the right to additional repairs.
  6. Landlords can refuse repairs: 
  7. If roommates, family members, or guests created the condition that needs repair. 
  8. For Example: If a guest punched a hole in the wall and broke a window, a landlord does not have to pay for repairs
  9. Late on rent payments. 
  10. Always pay your rent on time. 

A landlord cannot retaliate against for requesting repairs that affect health and safety. 

  1. If rent is on time and the tenant complies with the lease terms, for the next six (6) months from the date of the request to repair, the landlord can’t evict, terminate the lease, or increase the rent (unless it’s a scheduled increase or it affects all of the units). If the landlord files an eviction, it will be presumed to be in retaliation.
  2. If the landlord has already filed an eviction filing a repair suit will not save a tenant from being evicted. 
  3. Make sure rent is on time so that your landlord cannot pursue eviction instead of making the repairs. 

If the repairs still aren’t made, here are some options: 

  1. Terminate the lease: If the tenant gave proper notice, and they don’t owe rent, they can terminate your lease. Give written notice about why they are terminating and the date they will vacate the unit. They have the right to a refund for rent already paid for the days they are not there. They are entitled to a refund of their security deposit, minus damages the landlord can deduct according to the lease. 
  2. Go to court: Tenant may sue the landlord to make the repairs and for damages. A court can order the landlord to make repairs, reduce the rent from the date a tenant asked for repairs, award damages caused by failure to repair, damages of one month’s rent plus $500, court costs, and attorney’s fees. The suits are filed in the Justice of the Peace court.

Belinda J. Martinez/Staff Attorney/Lone Star Legal Aid