Know your rights: Flood water damage if you're a renter

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Days after floodwaters left her home in Kashmere Gardens, Elizabeth Crouts knows it's no place for her son with medical needs.

"There's mold in there," Crouts said. "My child is sick, and I'm not going to bring him back in there."

She said he is in the hospital now.

"I need a place to live so he can come home. He's fixing to come home and I don't have anywhere to put him," Crouts said. "I don't know what I'm going to do."

She said she has been spending nights at the hospital with him because she has nowhere else to go and that her landlord is demanding September's rent even though the unit has not been stripped of soaked sheetrock.

"They're wanting you to pay rent now, so when they get through gutting the houses, you can move back," Crouts said. "No, I don't have anywhere to go. I can't pay rent with no money."

Andy Teas with the Houston Apartment Association said his agency took more than 200 calls on Tuesday from apartment residents affected by Harvey.

According to Texas law, once a unit is deemed "totally unusable," either the tenant or the landlord can decide to terminate the lease at that time, he said.

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Here's what you need to know if your rental unit suffered through Hurricane Harvey.

"I would think that if the unit was destroyed or if there were several feet of water, it's totally unusable," Teas said. "If it got a few inches of water, the carpet's been removed, the sheetrock's being cut, making sure it's being dried out, the unit still has working electricity, working plumbing, that's probably not totally unusable."

Flood waters can have devastating consequences on your rental apartment or home. Many of your rights and responsibilities, as well as those of landlords, are controlled by the laws of the state where the property is located. Additionally, your lease may have clauses specifically addressing water damage. Here's what to know about your rights as a renter if you have suffered water damage in your home.

According to, the law requires your landlord to repair conditions that affect the physical health and safety of ordinary tenants. After it's safe to return, you and your landlord must assess whether a home is habitable. Depending on where you live, local housing laws may hold landlords to higher repair standards. You may be able to terminate your lease depending on the initial terms and the extent of the damage.
However, if you are able to stay in the unit while repairs are being made, you must still pay rent. Landlords may wait till they receive money from property insurance claims to begin repairs.

Landlords are not responsible for loss or damage to your personal belongings. If you have renters insurance or flood insurance, it may cover property damage. If there is a disaster declaration, apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) within 60 days of the declaration. Call 800.621.FEMA; go to the website, or go to a FEMA Disaster Assistance Center in your area.

Eyewitness News confirmed with Crouts' landlord that if she chooses to terminate her lease now, she will not owe any more money. A FEMA representative said he reviewed Crouts' claim and she will likely receive money for temporary housing.

  • Lone Star Legal Aid offers free legal service for people who can't afford attorneys.
  • Call Houston Apartment Association (713-595-0300) if you have questions about what your landlord is asking of you.
  • The City of Houston's website has a section dedicated to tenant rights.
  • Texas Apartment Association offers a list of available units for those looking for places to move.

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