Rent for unlivable conditions?

October 3, 2008 5:27:55 PM PDT
Hurricane Ike left more than mountains of debris in its wake. There are also a lot of confused apartment renters, who say they are being forced to pay rent on a place they can't live in.The bad news is, most people will have to pay their rent, but the law does allow people to break their lease under specific situations.

The sheet rock has been removed from apartments in the towers near NASA Road 1. Residents say mold is now growing there and that's enough for some renters to take drastic action.

"A lot of us moved out but now they are holding us accountable for the lease contracts," said renter Amanda Bourdeau.

Before renters walk away from an apartment, they need to know what the law says about breaking a lease due to an unlivable situation.

Texas Property Code 92.054 Section B states:

"If the property is totally unusable, the landlord or the tenant may terminate the lease by written notice before repairs are completed"

According to the Texas Apartment Association, renters can give written notice to apartment managers that they plan to leave under the property code provision, but the problem is what is considered unlivable.

"Unfortunately there is not a clear cut definition of what is uninhabitable either in the statute or in the case law," said George Allen with the Texas Apartment Association. "I can tell you just because the utilities are out is not an uninhabitable circumstance."

If the property manager disputes the claim, the case will be taken up with a justice of the peace who will then decide if the apartment is in fact unlivable. If so, the renter gets back the portion of the rent paid while the apartment was damaged, but renters can't just walk away.

"Either side can do this, usually it is the land lord, [who] can give written notice declaring it a causality canceling the rent in a reasonable period of time," said UH law professor Richard Alderman. "Usually about five days and at that point the obligation to pay rent stops."

Now what about those cases where the apartment is damaged, but still in livable shape? Here's what Texas law states:

"If the property is partially unusable, the tenant is entitled to proportionate reduction in the rent, to be determined by a county or district court."

This is right out of the Texas Property code.

We'll have these sections posted on my Consumer Blog.

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