Hurricane Harvey; Can I terminate my lease or do I have to pay rent if my apartment was flooded?
Now that the storm of Hurricane Harvey has passed many Houstonians are faced with no place to live and a multitude of questions. Some of these questions include:
- What are my rights as an apartment renter/tenant?
- Can I terminate my lease if my apartment was flooded or if I moved out?
- Do I have to pay my rent if my apartment is damaged by flood water or if I moved out?
- How can I find assistance to pay rent or to pay for another place to live?
According to Greg Allen, NRG stated in an interview with, Michel Martin, All Things Considered, on September 2, 2017, he stated that initial reports indicate that as much as 16% of the 600,000 registered with the Houston Apartment Association has sustained some damage.
In the same pod case, Fred Fuchs, Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, stated that under Texas law the renter is still responsible to pay rent even if the apartment is uninhabitable. According to the Texas Property Code, Sec. 92.062, Lease Term After Natural Disaster, the landlord can offer the tenant another apartment or rental unit but may not require the tenant to sign a lease longer than their original lease of the damaged unit. If the apartment is uninhabitable the renter can terminate his/her lease but they must notify the landlord in writing. Other conditions of lease termination include those found in Sec. 92.054, Casualty Loss, of the Texas Property Code.
According to the Texas Apartment Association if the apartment is partially unusable for only a day or two the resident may not have reason to terminate their lease. Being inconvenienced is not enough of a reason to seek termination of your lease obligation. It is important to check the language of your lease. Some lease will have language that directly addresses damage by flooding. If you abandon your apartment without a termination of the lease, you may still be responsible for rent for the duration of the lease term.
Many landlords want to keep the tenant and will work with the tenant to secure suitable housing options. Tenants may be able to negotiate a reduction in their rent or a prorating of rent for a period of time when the apartment was not suitable.
The good news is that prior to Hurricane Harvey that Houston actually had a surplus of apartments due to the build-up of the latest housing boom. Prior to Hurricane Harvey there was a 9 to 12 percent vacancy rate within the city. This overbuilding has provided a cushion that Houstonians will very much need in the coming weeks. The Harris County Housing Community and Resource Center has a tool to help you find both emergency shelter, emergency financial assistance, and rental properties.
Texas law also prohibits landlords from charging excessive fees for housing after a disaster declaration has been issued. Governor Abbott did issue a disaster declaration for 30 counties in Texas before Hurricane Harvey made landfall. If you feel you have been subjected to price-gouging you can file a complaint with the Office of the Attorney General in Texas you can call 1-800-621-0508.
Other relief for renters, FEMA has help available there are funds set aside for those renter affected by Hurricane Harvey. This help included money for both temporary housing and two months of help with rent.
If you need the assistance of a lawyer for help with lease termination, lease negotiations, or completing a FEMA application contact the Texas Lawyer Referral Service.