Views expressed in this blog are mine alone and are not intended to represent Williamson County policy nor intended as legal advice.

12/18/2019

Repair and Remedy

In Texas, withholding rent will get you evicted.

It seems straightforward. You’ve asked your landlord to repair problems with your apartment or rental property. They have failed to do so. So, you decide to withhold your rent to “encourage” them to fix the problem. However, if you do this, in Texas at least, you can and likely will be evicted for non-payment of rent.

You can force the issue of a property owner who is not addressing repairs that you’ve requested, but the process is far more complicated than simply refusing to pay rent.

Regardless of how you attempt to get relief from your landlord, you must follow these basic steps.

  1. Document the problem

  2. Send a request to repair the problem via certified mail

  3. Wait at least 7 days before taking any action after sending the letter.

  4. Check your lease for the landlord’s responsibilities

  5. KEEP PAYING RENT

BREAKING IT DOWN:

Notify the landlord in writing and keep a copy. Verbally telling the property management that you need repairs is not enough. Email is not enough. Notices through the online portal the property management offers are not enough. The best and surest way to do this is through certified mail. Keep the receipt with your copy of the letter. You will have solid proof that the landlord got your notice; and according to the repair statutes, you only have to give a landlord one notice of a problem if it is sent certified mail.

Next, you must wait a reasonable amount of time. The statue says this is 7 days but this can vary depending on the issue. Having no working heater when it is below freezing outside obviously requires a faster response.

You should also document the problem. You should take clear pictures before and after the repairs, if you choose to do them, and make sure to keep all receipts. If the problem with the property can be linked to illness or injury, make sure to document all doctor’s visits, payments, medications, and treatments.

If, after you’ve sent the certified letter and waited the 7 days, your landlord has still not addressed the issue, now you can act.

Check your lease. A standard Texas Apartment Association lease agreement likely has made mention of landlord responsibilities to keep the property in good order and pay for repairs and maintenance. Even if your lease does not have this type of provision, you can use the Texas Property Code to repair problems that materially affect the physical health or safety of an ordinary tenant and are not caused by the tenant, occupant, or a guest. Things like: leaking plumbing, rodents, broken air-conditioning in extremely hot temperatures, sewage leaks, shattered sliding glass doors or caved ceilings all affect health and safety. Broken appliances don’t qualify under the statue. If you feel the issue is severe enough, you might consider municipal ordinances about housing standards.

You have several choices:

  1. Terminate the lease and move - Terminating your lease under the repair statues is possible if you’ve followed all the steps above AND notified the landlord of your intent to terminate. Unfortunately, landlords rarely agree with this result and can withhold your security deposit and sue for back rent through eviction proceedings.

  2. File suit in small claims court and get a court order requiring the landlord to fix the problem. You can also get monetary damages this way. - If you choose to sue for the landlord's failure to repair a condition that affects health or safety under the repair statutes, the court may: direct the landlord to repair the condition; reduce your rent from the date of your first written request for the loss of value and use of the rental unit; direct the landlord to pay you one month's rent plus $500 in penalties; and award you the amount of your actual damages, court costs, and attorney's fees (if you choose to have an attorney represent you). You MUST keep paying rent and abiding by all terms of the lease during this process.

  3. Fix the problem yourself and deduct the cost from your rent. This is difficult to do correctly and may still result in an eviction. – If you choose to repair the problem yourself, you must have the property inspected by the appropriate local housing, building, or health official who must then notify the landlord, in writing, that the condition materially affects the health or safety of the tenant. Landlords will often not believe this remedy has been used properly and will still file for eviction. The biggest catch here is that the repair cannot exceed one month's rent or $500, whichever is greater, AND you must provide your receipts to the landlord.

  4. Notify the city code inspector about the problem - Notifying the city code inspector may or may not work. Many municipalities have few inspectors, resulting in a delay. Always send your request in writing, not just over the phone.

  5. Fix the problem yourself without attempting to recover your costs

  6. Live with it until your lease is up.

Withholding full rent simply will not work to force a landlord to make repairs and is generally considered a violation of your lease.

For more info, please check https://www.texastenant.org/repairs.html which most of this information was taken from.

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