Renter rights for common space safety

What you can do when problems go unfixed -- Fox 26 reporter Kaitlin Monte

- Many renters know to report safety or maintenance issues to their apartment complex, but what can you do when those issues go un-repaired?

After residents at Mission Falls apartments complained to FOX26 on Tuesday about their entry gate being broken for over a year, and a nearly pitch black parking lot where at least nine street lights were out, FOX26 reached out to the property's main office for answers. After three tries in 24 hours, no one called back.

Turns out, there's not a lot of legal incentive for properties to fix these types of common area safety problems.

"Our legislature has gone out of it's way to protect business, sometimes to the exclusion of individual rights and freedoms," laments FOX26 legal expert Chris Tritico.

Take the example of a broken entry gate. Tritico says a crime that occurs from someone entering the property due to a malfunctioning gate is not the fault of the property owners under current law.

Regarding insufficient lighting in public areas like parking lots, Tritico explains that, "there may be a city ordinance that requires a certain amount of lighting, but the amount of money you are looking at on a damage model for [a lawsuit involving a problem related to such issues] is low."

Frustrating news for renters, right? But there are a few things to know.

"You can call 311, and ask for the Habitability Inspectors," explained Andy Teas from the Houston Apartment Association. "That's the apartment team. They'll send somebody out usually the very next day. If there's a code violation or problem that needs to be corrected, they can insist that be fixed."

If you truly feel the property is not meeting the lease agreement you signed, there may be a way out here in Texas.

"You can ask the Justice of the Peace to let you out of your obligations from that lease. They're user friendly - the 'people's court'. You can go without an attorney. The filing fees are relatively reasonable," says Teas.

Documentation is key when handling complaints. Teas recommends making all complaints in writing, including the date and as much detail about the issue as possible. Pictures and videos are also key pieces of evidence to save on a phone or computer, labeled with the date taken.

Both experts also agreed that, prior to speaking to a leasing office to see units at an apartment you like, walk the property at different times of day. Talk to other tenants about what they like and dislike. This allows renters to potentially identify issues before getting involved with management. Doing this before a formal tour means you won't have to lose out on same-day signing benefits should the complex meet your standards.

Also, visit review sites like yelp.com to see what past and current tenants have said about the building. Look for how management responds to consumer complaints made on such sites, and the dates when such complaints were posted.


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