A landlord must repair a condition if a tenant gives notice of a condition, the tenant is not delinquent in rent payment, and the condition materially affects health or safety of the tenant or is due to the landlord’s failure to supply hot water at a minimum temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Given recent weather, lack of heating as well as a lack of hot water supply would materially affect the health and safety of tenants.
There is a presumption that seven days is a reasonable time to make repairs.
- If the damage is covered in an insurance policy as an insured casualty loss, the timeline to start making the repairs does not start until the landlord receives the insurance proceeds.
- If the damage is so great that the property is totally uninhabitable, either the tenant or landlord can terminate the lease by giving written notice prior to the completion of repairs. The tenant would be entitled to a prorated refund of rent from the date the tenant moves out.
- If the damage renders the property partially unusable, the tenant is entitled to a reduction of rent in an amount proportionate to the extent the property is unusable. The tenant and landlord can negotiate a reduction in rent, but if the landlord will not cooperate or the parties can’t agree, the tenant may seek a judgment from a county or district court.
What if the Property Insurance Does Not Cover Such Weather Storms Under Casualty Loss?
- Though there is a presumption that seven days is a reasonable time to make repairs, the severity and nature of the condition and the reasonable availability of materials, labor, and of utilities from a utility company must be considered per the Property Code.
- To prevent tenants from making their own repairs and deducting the cost from the rent, the landlord should deliver to the tenant an affidavit, signed and sworn to under oath by the landlord or property manager, summarizing the reasons for the delay and the diligent efforts made by the landlord up to the date of the affidavit to get the repairs done. The affidavit must state facts showing that the landlord has made and is making diligent efforts to repair the condition, and it must contain dates, names, addresses, and telephone numbers of contractors, suppliers, and repairmen contacted by the owner. The affidavit allows a delay up to 30 days.
- Nothing in the Property Code or the Texas REALTORS® Residential Lease states that the landlord is required to pay for hotel expenses during repairs, even if the condition being repaired materially affects health and safety of an ordinary tenant.
- If the property is totally unusable for residential purposes because of a natural disaster such as an extended freeze, a landlord that allows a tenant to move to another rental unit owned by the landlord may not require the tenant to execute a lease for a term longer than the term remaining on the tenant’s lease on the date the premises was rendered unusable.
Paragraph 17 of the Residential Lease
Paragraph 17A of the Residential Lease clarifies a tenant’s general responsibilities, and subsection (7) specifically states that a tenant must take all necessary precautions to prevent broken water pipes due to freezing or other causes. With significant damage stemming from burst pipes resulting from freezing temperatures, landlords may think that repairs needed because of broken pipes will be responsibility of the tenant. However, this issue is not as black and white as it seems. There are tenants that may have taken the necessary precautions but still had their pipes burst; many residents across the state were instructed to conserve water and not to let their faucets drip; and some areas did not have access to water at all.
If you believe broken pipes on properties you own or manage were the result of a tenant failing to take all necessary precautions as required by the Residential Lease, please consult with an attorney about your specific claim.