NBC 5 Responds

How to make and escalate apartment repair requests

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Logging just over 50 days of 100 degrees or higher so far this summer, air conditioning repair is a hot topic. NBC 5 has told you about some renters waiting days, even weeks for permanent repairs to air conditioning systems.

Read on for the steps experts recommend renters take to make and escalate maintenance requests through any season.

PUT REQUESTS IN WRITING

Farwah Raza, the supervising attorney for the Home Preservation Project at Legal Aid Of NorthWest Texas, explains renters are entitled to repairs that affect their health and safety.

There is a process to follow, starting with checking the lease agreement.

“They do want to take a look at their lease to see if that's something that is their responsibility or if it's the landlord's responsibility,” explained Raza.

Submit the repair request by following any steps in your lease, which may mean communicating through an app or online portal.

Raza recommends also sending the request through certified mail with return receipt service.

“That way, you have proof that you mailed it out,” said Raza. “You have proof that it was in writing and it very strictly complies with the property code.”

“A lot of folks have apps and they find that landlords are fairly responsive. They have that conversation in the hallway with their repair person and they’re very quick to respond,” Raza said. “If you're finding that that's not the case, then you really do want to focus on: How do I do this legally to make sure that I'm documenting what I need to so I can protect myself?”

Texas Property Code says the tenant must give written notice. It gives landlords a reasonable amount of time to make the repair, usually a week. The severity of the issue and whether materials or labor are available may also factor in.

The Texas Tenants Union says renters may also call code enforcement or the relevant health, fire or housing inspector in their county or city.

“The best form of protection, besides giving it in writing, is to call the local city inspector and have the inspector determine whether or not the landlord is in compliance with the city code,” said Texas Tenants Union Executive Director Dewey Marshall.

“THERE IS A LOT OF MISINFORMATION OUT THERE”

One step renters should not take, according to both experts in this story? Tenants cannot withhold rent payments from the landlord, not even if they pay into an escrow account.

Marshall said, “If a tenant withholds rent, they're way more likely to get an eviction than they are to get a repair. In other states, you can withhold rent but not in Texas.”

Texas law says landlords aren’t required to make repairs required by state law unless tenants are current on rent.

“There is a lot of misinformation out there on this subject and, unfortunately, people will end up in court for nonpayment of rent. Really, it's a repair and remedy issue that should have been handled better," said Raza.

There is a tenant’s repair and deduct remedy listed in the property code, but Raza warns it applies to very specific repairs that may have had to involve the city inspector. The tenant would also have to follow strict rules about notice, cost and hiring a contractor listed in the Yellow Pages or newspaper classifieds.

“There's all of these obstacles you have to go through and if you don't follow them, then there's very much the possibility that now you get evicted and you paid for the repair,” Raza said.

Raza said for anything that complicated a renter should talk with a lawyer to avoid making a problem worse.

OTHER TIPS AND RESOURCES

In your written repair request, be specific about the repairs needed. Use a trackable mail service, like certified mail or registered mail, to send the letter to where you send your rent. Keep a copy of the letter along with photos of the problem.

If you’re not sure how to word a repair request letter, you can find examples here and here.

If the renter still can't get repairs made, they may have the option to terminate the lease and move.

The renter could sue the landlord to make the repairs in Justice of the Peace court, where the renter would not have to hire a lawyer. Texaslawhelp.org is a free source of information on landlord-tenant issues. Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas and other organizations contribute information to the site.

The State Bar of Texas published a tenants rights handbook on its website. Pages 16-22 focus on repairs and include information about unsafe conditions caused by an insured casualty loss like a fire or weather disaster. Under those circumstances, the landlord is not required to start repairs until insurance pays.

Landlords would not be required to pay for repairs the renter or their guests caused beyond normal wear and tear, like punching a hole through a wall.

NBC 5 Responds is committed to researching your concerns and recovering your money. Our goal is to get you answers and, if possible, solutions and a resolution. Call us at 844-5RESPND (844-573-7763) or fill out our customer complaint form.

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