HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Houston's Mayor is calling for flexibility and sensitivity from landlords of tenants impacted by Hurricane Harvey.
Sylvester Turner today asked landlords to be flexible with victims who can't pay apartment rent right now. He is encouraging all apartment owners to allow September to be a "grace period" without fees.
"Please be sensitive," Turner said as he spoke at city hall.
Further, Turner called it "theft" if apartments start charging late fees or accepting money if they refuse to make repairs.
"If we determine that any terminations were done improperly or unnecessarily, we will take whatever measures necessary to protect the rights of those tenants," said Turner.
The mayor suggested repercussions for disregarding this request could include him shaming the property owner publicly or even potential charges from the Harris County District Attorney's office.
"We trying to piece our life back together just like they are in that office trying to piece the apartments back together," said one apartment resident who asked that we conceal her identity. She claims the apartment complex where she has lived for the last year refused to remediate mold after the apartment unit took on water during Harvey. She claims the landlord only painted over wet Sheetrock, which then developed mold and says managers then told her she must move out. She's made arrangements to move and plans to do so tomorrow.
Mayor Turner also says fear keeps many from speaking up to say they need help with their apartment. Some, he says, are concerned about coming forward because of their immigration status, afraid that landlords might expose them if they don't pay.
"We are not going to tolerate anybody in this city to be victimized because they may be poor, undocumented or may not speak the language," Turner said.
He insists that no one seeking housing through the city of Houston will be asked about the immigration status or be required even to present identification. Turner promised to do everything in the city's power to go after any property owner taking advantage of victims, up to and including referral of the case to the Harris County District Attorney's office.
A spokesperson for the D.A. says such incidents will be handled on a case by case basis. "When a law has been broken such as fraud or deceptive business practices, we pursue criminal charges," said HCDA spokesperson Dane Schiller.