Tornado-Affected Tenants Must Still Pay Rent: Texas Law

Many residents of a Garland apartment complex are still homeless after tornadoes damaged their homes Dec. 26. But even though some don't have a place to live, they complain the on-site apartment manager still asked them pay rent on Jan. 1.

Monique Russell is among the tenants who is now cleaning a tornado-damaged apartment. She pointed to the mess the twister left behind. Glass shards and rain-soaked walls worry the single mother of two.

"It's unsafe for my kids," she said. "I have a baby, a 2 year old and a 6 year old."

Russell and her children crouched in a bathtub as the tornadoes tore trees and toppled cars. Her Garland apartment complex, Ray Hubbard Ranch One, was in the path.

"I haven't slept," Russell said.

The tornado's toll was emotional and financial. All residents lost any perishable food because the electricity was out for two days. Some lost belongings and others, like Russell, also also suffered damage to their cars parked in front of the complex.

When Russell questioned her apartment manager about having to pay the rent, she says the manager insisted rent was due Jan. 1.

"She said she can't do nothing about God's work," Russell said.

The manager said repairs were underway to make the apartment livable.

Hannah Kearns lives in the same complex. The tornado ripped away her chimney and rain poured in soaking her carpet.

"You can smell the stench in here," she said standing in the middle of her living room a week after the storm.

Kearns packed boxes of clothes and essentials and moved in with a relative.

"Everyone was a little confused at how and why we have to pay rent considering the damage to the apartments," she said. "And we were told that they would board them up and tarp them up, and they would be livable for us."

The apartment manager was following state law. A tenant has to pay rent, regardless of the damage to their home. Texas property code states that after a natural disaster, if the apartment is unlivable, a tenant can terminate the lease and ask for a pro-rated refund of the rent. If the apartment is partially unusable a tenant is entitled to a reduction of the rent, but only if a court approves it or the landlord and tenant agree.

Consumer Specialist Deanna Dewberry called the apartments' management company, Class A management. Supervisor Cathy Fontana was adamant that managers would not demand that affected tenants pay rent on Jan. 1.

"Ain't nobody looking at that," she said by phone. "We're looking at human compassion."

That's a relief for residents struggling after the storm.

"This was a devastating disaster to everybody, and it's hurt everybody," said Kearns.

At this point, though, it's not clear when rent is due. Fontana said the complex is "in crisis mode" and her priority is finding residents a place to live. She pleaded for food donations for her residents and support from the public.

A valuable resource for tenants is the Texas Tenants Union. The non-profit group provides guidance to tenants and helps them understand applicable property code. The Tenants' Rights handbook is also a valuable resource. It's a free resource published by the Texas Young Lawyers Association and the State Bar of Texas.

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