On a chilly Wednesday afternoon, Brianna McDowell’s one year old daughter wears a fluffy pink coat to play -- inside.
McDowell pointed to the thermostat in her apartment. When it’s flipped on, the vents only blow cool air.
“The night before, it was so cold I literally had on two sweaters, a jacket, a scarf, jeans with leggings, shoes and socks on,” said McDowell.
McDowell said her apartment complex, Brooklawn Springs Apartments in Dallas, offers "all bills paid" and the heat is typically turned on for the entire complex at one time.
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At least two other residents told NBC 5 they’re also cold in their apartments. One resident is using the stove to heat the living room, even though she said she knows it’s dangerous.
McDowell said she asked for the heat to be flipped on three weeks ago, but staff told her it was too early in the season. This week, McDowell showed NBC 5 text messages from staff in the complex saying there’s been a delay in getting a part to repair the heating system.
A manager at the apartment complex said she isn’t allowed to speak to a reporter. Another staff member told NBC 5 workers have been trying to repair the boiler for the last two days.
McDowell points out below freezing temperatures in North Texas were forecast before that.
“I want to make sure that I can come in here and be warm,” said McDowell. “I don’t have to leave and go to someone else’s house to sleep for the night because it’s too cold to sleep in my own home.”
“If the landlord wasn’t willing to sleep in a place that’s unheated at 30 degrees, than they shouldn’t expect the tenants too either,” said Sandy Rollins, executive director of the nonprofit Texas Tenants’ Union.
Texas Property Code states renters have the right to demand repairs of conditions that affect physical health and safety.
Some cities have more specific ordinances on the books. In Dallas, residents should call 311 and an inspector must respond within 24 hours of the complaint. In Arlington, residents should call the city’s Action Center at 817-459-6777.
“Most of the larger cities in the area have minimum property standards and people can call code enforcement or housing inspection and try to get somebody out,” explained Rollins.
In Dallas, landlords have to maintain heating units that can keep a room no cooler than 68 degrees and make repairs within 72 hours if temperatures remain below 40 degrees Fahrenheit for three consecutive days after the city gives a notice or citation.
In Arlington, city code states temperatures should be able to be maintained at least 70 degrees.
Rollins said Texas tenant laws aren’t as strong as many other states that allow renters to withhold rent until repairs are made. In Texas, renters must continue to pay rent and repair orders should be made in writing and according to the terms of the lease. There may be a remedy for renters in court, but renters have to know to provide written requests by certified mail.
“So many people submit work orders, or make the phone calls, or fill out the web form, text, email,” said Rollins. “All of which seem like reasonable things to do and I’m not saying they’re not reasonable things to do, but often they’re not the thing that triggers the tenants’ rights.”