Texans unable to pay utility bills are one step closer to getting relief as thousands apply for unemployment benefits at a record pace across the state.
On Thursday,, the Public Utility Commission held a special meeting to approve a new order in response to the COVID-19 crisis, in the context of state and federal declarations of emergency disaster.
This is a big move as advocacy groups have been pressuring the state’s utility regulator to suspend water, phone and electric shutoffs as workers face layoffs and may not be able to pay bills.
“Nobody is going to be put out on the street. We really want to make sure everybody is aware,” said Ian Mattingly, an executive board member of the Texas Apartment Association and the President of Lumacorp, a property management group that oversees about 5,500 apartments in Dallas-Fort Worth.
"Our primary goal as property owners and operators in this time of crisis is to make sure that people are staying safe in their home. That is the best way that we can help prevent the spread of this COVID-19 disease," Mattingly said.
Mattingly urged anyone who fears they are at risk of missing their next rental payment to contact your property management as soon as possible and said that good management would be willing to work with tenants on possible forbearance or payment plans.
Just last week, The Texas Supreme Court issued an order that puts a stay on evictions for non-payment of rent until after April 19. There is a limited exception for an eviction based on a person posing an imminent threat of physical harm to another resident or the rental property’s staff, or for criminal activity. The order applies statewide.
Courts may accept new filings, but citations will not be served until after April 19, and the time periods associated with the filings are suspended. Similarly, courts may issues writs of possession, but writs will not be executed until after April 26.
If you’re a renter, the Texas Apartment Association has gathered a list of resources on their website: https://www.taa.org/renters/helpful-info/
Companies like TXU and Reliant Energy say they’re working hard to help customers and offering payment flexibility, waiving late fees and offering bill payment assistance.
The Public Utility Commission has not released the exact details of the order but in a memo released yesterday, DeAnn Walker, Chairman of the commission, recommended that utility regulators should immediately provide help for financially distressed Texans who buy electricity in the deregulated market, an area that includes Houston and Dallas.
The cost of the program would be paid through a special charge assessed to ratepayers.
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