According to Texas Tenant Advisor (www.texastenant.org), there are four steps available to a tenant who is living in substandard or poorly-maintained housing.
STEP ONE: The tenant should ensure that his rent has been paid and that any other obligations to the landlord have been met before making a formal request for repairs. Even if the landlord fails to meet his obligation to repair a problem, withholding payment of rent is justification for eviction in Texas.
STEP TWO: The tenant should notify the landlord (or apartment manager or owner) in writing of any damage to the apartment that requires repairs. In order to trigger legal action, the written notice should be dated, should describe the type of problem, and should include the tenant’s name and address. Sample forms are available online (see links below). The written notice should be sent by certified mail with a return receipt requested. The certified letter provides the tenant with documentation that repairs have been requested. The return receipt confirms when the letter was mailed and when and by whom it was received. Texas Tenant Advisor also recommends that tenants document the damages by photographing the problem area should further evidence be required.
STEP THREE: Once a formal complaint or request for repairs has been filed, the repairs must be made within a “reasonable time.” In general, statutes presume that seven days is a reasonable time, but there are exceptions based on the severity of the damage, or whether an insurance claim must be filed before the repairs can be made.
STEP FOUR: Should the landlord fail to act, there are three sources of authority provided by law to which the tenant can turn:
- Lease Agreement: Most leases spell out what both the landlord’s and the tenant’s responsibilities are.
- Repair Statutes: Under state law, regardless of what the lease says, the landlord is required to repair problems that materially affect the physical health or safety or a tenant that are not caused by the tenant. If the problem resulted from normal use of the premises, the landlord is responsible for the repair. Among the examples provided: leaking plumbing, rodents, broken air conditioning, sewage leaks, shattered sliding glass doors or caved ceilings.
- Municipal Ordinances: Most cities have minimum housing standards with which a landlord must comply. For example, hot water should be available in the kitchen and bathroom of all dwellings, and must meet a specific temperature. In addition, at least one smoke detector must be installed by the landlord outside of each bedroom or in a common corridor serving several bedrooms. The landlord has the duty to inspect and test the smoke detector at the beginning of tenancy, and if notified of a malfunction, must inspect and repair the smoke detector within a reasonable time. Texas law offers tenants protections against acts of retaliation—such as wrongful termination of the lease, eviction or increasing the rent (http://texastenant. org/retaliation.html)—when a tenant exercises his rights by requesting repairs or calling a government or nonprofit agency about a problem. If the landlord takes any adverse action against a tenant within six months of the tenant’s action, the landlord is presumed to have improperly retaliated.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Texas Tenant Advisor (http://www.texastenant.org/) provides information about tenants’ rights, how to fight back against a landlord who violates those rights, and useful links to other information, including legal aid organizations such as Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas (http://www.lanwt.org/), which has an Amarillo office that serves residents of Hemphill County and 19 other counties in the Texas Panhandle. That office is located at 203 West 8th, Suite 600, in Amarillo, and can be reached by calling the toll-free number at 800.955.6808.
ONLINE FORMS :
- Sample letter to landlord requesting repairs http://texastenant.org/pdf _ files/1034_Demand_Letter_Repair.pdf
- Petition to Justice Court requesting repairs http://texastenant.org/pdf _ files/1034_DC_Petition_Repair.pdf
- Petition to District Court requesting repairs http://texastenant.org/pdf _ files/1034_DC_Petition_Repair.pdf
The Canadian Record will provide free copies of information posted on Texas Tenant Advisor or of the repair request forms to any tenant as needed.