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.

How to pull your credit report (and save it as a PDF)

Step 1: Go to annualcreditreport.com.

Step 2: Click on this button:

Step 3: Fill out form with your information.

Step 4: Click on this button:

Step 5: Select all three bureaus by checking the boxes like this:

Step 6: Click on the next button.

Step 7: Answer the security questions and click the continue button.

Step 8: For Equifax, click the download report button.

Step 8: For TransUnion, click the Save as PDF link.

Step 8: For Experian, click the Print Your Report link.

Step 8b: After clicking the Print Your Report link, a new window will open. Click the Print Report button.

Step 8c: After clicking the Print Report button, a new window will open. Click “Adobe PDF” or “Save as PDF” under “Destination”. Then click “Print”.

What to do if you might be evicted in Texas.

If you can pay your rent, you should. But sometimes that isn’t an option or your landlord wants to evict you for reasons other than nonpayment of rent.

        You need to make plans NOW. Failing to plan is planning to fail. If you do get evicted, where will your kids stay? What about your pets? Do you have  a secure place to store your belongings?

        First, pack. It always takes longer to pack than anticipated. If you must leave on short notice, you’ll be glad to you packed early. The last thing you want is to have to leave stuff behind because you couldn’t move it in time. If things work out, you can always unpack.

        Second, resources are available but they are limited. Start making phone calls now. Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas is a good place to start. Austin Tenants Council provides assistance understanding the eviction process.

        Third, communicate with your landlord. They probably won’t work with you but they might.

        Forth, you’re not evicted until a judge says so. There is no “self-help” residential eviction in Texas. Consider vacating the residence and surrendering possession back to the landlord before the hearing.

        Sixth, attend the eviction hearings. You’re unlikely to win but you’ll get the information regarding deadlines directly from the judge. If you have vacated the residence, be sure to let the judge know at the hearing.

        Seventh, if you are evicted, leave the place in good order. Take a bunch of photos and videos of the residence. Upload the videos to Google Drive or other file storage. If you need the pictures in two years to show you didn’t trash the place, it won’t do you any good if you threw away that phone and didn’t back them up.

        Eighth, notify your landlord in writing of your forwarding address so you can receive any refund of your housing deposit, if any. You must notify the landlord in writing to trigger your right to a refund under Texas law. Most likely, your deposit will used to pay back rent or other charges. But you should still let your landlord know your forwarding address so they can send you the bill for any additional money they want paid.

        Ninth, many larger landlords will turn delinquent rent over to debt collectors. Having a debt collector report you owe a former landlord money may make it difficult for you to find housing. Check your credit report frequently. You can view your credit report weekly for free through April 1, 2021.