Without power for hours during the winter storm last month, Meredith Webb of Euless recalled the sound of a water pipe bursting in her apartment.
“I remember being in my bed, I was wrapped up with blankets and then I heard gushing water,” said Webb. “There was water pouring into my bathroom.”
Webb said she scrambled to find help turning the water off. She said she managed without water by showering at the gym, friends’ homes and visiting her parents in nearby Grapevine.
Webb said she considered asking to be let out of her lease, then decided against it.
“I don't want to deal with moving. I don't want to pay the expenses to move and then come up with a deposit, admin fees and all that stuff for a new place,” said Webb.
A few hours after Webb said she paid her March rent in full, she received a lease termination notice. It said the unit was unusable due to damage and Webb would have six days to move out.
Along with the notice, Webb said she received a phone call.
“They did say if you need an extra day, let us know, but that was the extent of it,” Webb recalled.
Attorney K’Lisha Rutledge with Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas explains the tenant or landlord can terminate a lease if the apartment is uninhabitable following a disaster.
“If the landlord wants you to move because of the casualty loss and you don't want to move, then what's going to end up happening is that landlord is going to have to evict you from the premises - which isn't ideal because an eviction is going to stay on your record and it's going to impact you renting in the future,” explained Rutledge.
A tenant is entitled to a prorated refund of any rent paid in advance, along with their security deposit.
“If the landlord is shutting down the premises for casualty loss. It is not a lot to expect that they return that security deposit immediately so that you can use it to move somewhere else,” said Rutledge.
In most apartment lease agreements, Rutledge explains the landlord is not responsible for moving costs or paying for another place to stay after a disaster like the winter storm that lead to burst pipes and flooded homes.
If you find yourself facing an unplanned move, check your renter’s insurance policy and apply for assistance through FEMA.
A tenant can also terminate a lease if an apartment is unusable by giving written notice before repairs are completed. That tenant is also entitled to a prorated refund of rent and their security deposit.
“You try to remember the fact that this is so unprecedented and you try to empathize with them and what they're going through. I feel like that same empathy wasn't given to me,” Webb said.
For now, Webb said she has moved in with her parents – not quite ready to pull up roots again.
If you need help understanding your rights, Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas has a disaster hotline you can call at 1-855-548-8457.
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