HOUSTON (FOX 26) - Since Harvey hit and many Houston residents have been forced to evacuate from their homes, many of them who lost their apartment units are asking, "What rights do renters have?"
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is answering that question and has the following message for Houston landlords and property owners: "If we determine any terminations were done improperly or unnecessarily, we will take all necessary measures to protect the rights of those tenants."
Mayor Turner says there are two immediate priorities, specifically, having enough housing for displaced Houston residents and cleaning up. You don't have to look far to find both are problems right now.
Apartment complexes throughout Houston are now left gutted with piles of waste everywhere you look. Where are the residents in all of this?
"I've been sleeping on the floor along with my mold," explains Lester Thompson, who had four feet of water enter his apartment unit and he's still living there because he doesn't have anywhere else to go.
Mayor Turner says more than half of Houston residents live in rental housing and now that so many complexes have flooded, finding a home for everyone is a tough task. Landlords know there's a need, so Mayor Turner says some property owners may be trying to take advantage with unfair evictions and threats.
"They're being threatened to be taken to court and they'll be charged with legal fees and court fees," says Father Ed Gomez with The Metropolitan Organization. "That's what the landlords are telling these tenants."
"I urge landlords to show flexibility by waiving or delaying late fees for at least one month, a one-month grace period to help ease the financial burden," says Mayor Turner. He is encouraging renters who feel victimized to contact 311 and report it to the mayor's office.
Mayor Turner says he will not hesitate to go legally after property owners violating renters' rights.
"Especially if landlords or apartment owners have accepted September rent and is forcing tenants out, to me, that's the equivalent of theft," adds Mayor Turner. "I would work with the Harris County DA's Office to prosecute them."
Mayor Turner says more than 9,000 evacuees once living in the George R. Brown Convention Center now either have housing or are staying with friends and family. He also says the 1,000 people who remain at GRB will likely be placed in apartment units over the next weekend.