In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Houston has shown its strength, resilience, and love for neighbor. Friends, co-workers, and neighbors have helped each other with shelter, food, a helping hand, and sometimes a shoulder to cry on. As the waters recede and residents return to evaluate the damage to their homes, some tenants are encountering a new nightmare: landlords who are demanding rent even for apartments or houses that have been flooded or severely damaged by the storm. In some cases, tenants haven’t even been able to return to their homes to try to retrieve any salvageable items. Despite these difficulties, some landlords have threatened eviction or other legal action against their tenants for failing to pay rent.
What are tenants to do when faced with such situations? Thankfully, Texas law provides some protections. Pursuant to Texas Property Code Sec. 92.054, either a tenant or a landlord may terminate a lease if the property becomes completely unusable after a casualty loss. Tenants should provide their landlord with a written notice of termination upon removing their property from the leased premises. It is preferable to use a trackable way of providing notice, such as email or certified mail, in order to have documentary evidence of the notice. After termination, a tenant is allowed a pro rata refund of rent paid from the date that the tenant moves out and to a refund of the security deposit.
What if only part of your leased property was damaged, such as a garage or storage area? If only part of the property is rendered unusable, the tenant may abate their rent to account for the portion of the property that cannot be used, but only after a county or district court has so ordered. See Texas Property Code Sec. 92.054(c).
Due to the housing shortage caused by Hurricane Harvey, some tenants may want to wait for repairs to be completed in order to stay under their current lease and not have to move elsewhere with a higher rent. In such a situation, tenants should provide a written notice to their landlord regarding any repairs that need to be made to the premises, such as water damage, flooding, mold/mildew, or broken windows. Tenants need to provide this written notice either once if sent via certified mail, or twice if hand-delivered or sent through email, fax, or regular mail. The tenant must wait a reasonable period of time after each written notice, which is determined by the circumstances at hand. The landlord is responsible for making repairs that affect the health or safety of the tenant, pursuant to Texas Property Code Sec. 92.056. Tenants should be aware, however, that if the landlord determines that the property is unusable, the landlord is allowed to simply terminate the lease instead of making repairs.
If you or someone you know is struggling to deal with a landlord regarding property damaged by Hurricane Harvey, call one of our experienced Landlord Tenant Property Damage Repair Dispute Attorneys for an evaluation of your landlord/tenant matter.