Terminating a residential lease after burst pipes

The February 2021 cold weather caused frozen pipes to burst in many rented residences. If the damage caused the rental to be “totally unusable for residential purposes”, the tenant may terminate the lease under Chapter 92.054(b) of the Texas Property Code.

Chapter 92.054(b) states:

If after a casualty loss the rental premises are as a practical matter totally unusable for residential purposes and if the casualty loss is not caused by the negligence or fault of the tenant, a member of the tenant’s family, or a guest or invitee of the tenant, either the landlord or the tenant may terminate the lease by giving written notice to the other any time before repairs are completed. If the lease is terminated, the tenant is entitled only to a pro rata refund of rent from the date the tenant moves out and to a refund of any security deposit otherwise required by law.

            This is important for tenants as the landlord may lawfully delay repairs until they receive a payout from their insurance. However, the notice of termination must be in writing. Tenants should send the notice using the Postal Service’s certified mail, return receipt requested (green card) and 1st class mail. They should also keep a copy of the notice and proof of delivery. An easy way to keep a copy safe is to email it to yourself. The tenant may need to prove the lease was terminated lawfully years later.

            If a landlord tries to collect additional rent after a tenant terminates a lease under this law, the landlord may be violating the Texas Debt Collection Act. A debt collector who tries to collect rent that isn’t owed may be violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.