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Renters Face More Troubles After Hurricane Harvey

After Hurricane Harvey, a neighbor was the first to tell Paige Cane that her landlord had posted an eviction notice on the door of her flooded apartment in Port Arthur, Texas.

The 26-year-old was more than 300 miles away with no car, sleeping in a Dallas shelter for evacuees escaping Harvey’s floodwaters. This mother of four had no way to get back in the five days the eviction notice gave her to remove her belongings before they would be heaped on the curb.

Rental housing has been a concern in many cities in Texas after hurricanes Harvey flooded tens of thousands of homes. Texas renters have complained of difficulties getting out of leases on damaged properties, short timelines for evictions, and trouble finding affordable rentals because landlords have a high number of tenants to choose from.

In Texas, housing advocacy groups in Houston, Port Arthur, and other affected cities are fielding complaints. Lone Star Legal Aid, which provides free civil legal services to low-income residents in parts of the state, has received nearly 100 complaints from renters since the storm.

There were landlords who would not extend the rent deadlines, evictions without notice, etc.

Texas statutes, which often favor landlords in disputes, require tenants to take landlords to court for rent reductions or lease termination, something that was near impossible while courthouses were flooded, cars destroyed and incomes lost.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner urged landlords to waive late fees for September and give more time to vacate uninhabitable apartments.

Areas of Houston that stayed dry saw an increase in average rents.

Texas renters have also complained about landlords demanding rent for unlivable apartments and threatening to keep security deposits or put a mark on the renters’ credit reports if they don’t pay. Texas law says either the landlord or the tenant can decide that a space is unlivable because of a flood or fire, but the law doesn’t clearly outline what happens if they disagree.

As for short timelines for evictions, five-day notices, while allowed, have been applied in ways that don’t comply with Texas law.

Garza & Harris has witnessed handfuls of legal actions in the last month, including a request for an order prohibiting an apartment management company from putting Cane’s belongings on the street before she could get back.

A court later gave Cane time to get her belongings. A phone call to the apartment complex seeking comment was not returned.

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