The Texas Attorney General has declared that tenants have certain rights. Among them are the right to feel safe and secure inside your rental dwelling. Unfortunately, not all landlords respect their tenants' rights, leaving them with no other course than to take action. What happens if you encounter a slumlord in the Lone Star State? You could have several courses of action, including the following.
Step 1: Be Familiar with your Rights
Before you can report a bad landlord, it's important to know what your rights are. These include:
- Quiet enjoyment of the property.
- Uninterrupted utilities, unless the interruption results from an emergency or bona fide repair.
- A demand for repairs whenever a condition exists that materially affects your safety or health.
- Working smoke detectors.
- Security devices such as locking deadbolts on exterior doors and window locks.
These rights are guaranteed even if you are late in paying your rent. Even so, the reporting process is not designed to settle issues of non-payment between you and your landlord. If you are facing eviction or another form of legal action, you will need to consult with an attorney.
Performing Due Diligence First
Your complaint is more likely to stick if you can provide evidence that the landlord has violated your rights or failed to comply with any provision of the Texas Property Code. This means that whenever possible, you should personally try to resolve your issue first.
Settling a complaint yourself will require you to do some homework of your own. For example, you may need to meet certain requirements before you are able to "repair and deduct" under Section 94.157 of the Texas Property Code. Taking the time to familiarize yourself with these requirements will go a long way toward helping you prove you have been unfairly taken advantage of.
Creating a Paper Trail
Once you know your obligations, set out to create a paper trail. All formal complaints should be put in writing and delivered to your landlord or property manager by certified or return receipt requested mail. Faxing documents is also acceptable, provided you receive confirmation.
Maintain copies of your original request as well as any replies you receive. These will prove very useful should you need to take the next step and file a formal complaint. While waiting on a response, you should document unsafe conditions by taking photographs or videos as well.
Reporting Slumlords for Discrimination
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) oversees complaints related to the Fair Housing Act. This act makes it a crime for landlords to discriminate against you based upon race, national origin, religion, sex, or any other protected class.
The Texas Workforce Commission has the responsibility to enforce the Fair Housing Act. If you feel you have been discriminated against, you may take action by:
- Filling out an online complaint form.
- Emailing the commission at email@example.com.
- Calling the agency at 888-452-4778 or 512-463-2642.
- Sending a fax to 512-463-2643.
Finally, you may also visit the Civil Rights Division of the Texas Workforce Commission in person. Their physical address is:
1117 Trinity Street, Room 144-T
Austin, TX 78701
Local Housing Discrimination Contacts
There are several local offices where you can file discrimination claims against an unscrupulous landlord, including:
City of Austin, TX
1050 E. 11th St.
Austin, Texas 78702
City of Corpus Christi Police Department
1201 Leopard St.
Corpus Christi, Texas 78401
City of Dallas, Texas
1500 Marilla Street
Dallas, Texas 75201
City of Fort Worth, TX
818 Missouri Avenue
Fort Worth, Texas 76104
200 Texas Street
Fort Worth, Texas 76102
City of Garland, Texas
210 Carver Street, Suite 102A
Garland, Texas 75040
There may be other local housing discrimination offices as well. As such, you may check with your city or county to learn about local remedies for reporting a bad landlord.
HUD Complaints of Discrimination
You may wish to file an unfair housing claim directly with HUD's division of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO). To do so, contact the FHEO's regional office in Fort Worth. This office is located at:
801 Cherry Street
Unit 45, Suite 2500
Fort Worth, TX 76102
To contact the FHEO by phone, call toll free 800-669-9777 or TTY 817-978-5595. Alternatively, you may also submit an online complaint form.
HUD Bad Landlord Remedy
If you live in federal housing, HUD may also provide you with a remedy for bad landlords. According to this agency, landlords who fail to provide "safe and decent housing" are often fined or barred from doing business with the federal government. They recommend reporting such a landlord to the Multifamily Housing Complaint Line, which can be reached by calling 800-685-8470 or TTY 800-432-2209.
Health and Safety Complaints
Poorly maintained properties can often result in health and safety issues. A few things that could be considered a threat to public health and safety include:
- A lack of hot or running water
- Inoperable or missing smoke detectors or fire extinguishers
- Inadequate trash removal services
- Poor pest control
- Mold, algae, or mildew
- Inadequate plumbing
- No or poor quality heat
- Lead-based paint
- Asbestos or other environmental hazards
Before filing a complaint, you should first attempt to exercise your right to repair and deduct if the situation calls for it. If a repair and deduct isn't possible, then it's important to notify your landlord in writing and allow a reasonable amount of time for a response. That will depend upon the nature of your complaint, but can be as long as 30 days.
City or County Health Department Complaints
If your landlord fails to take action, you may have no other option than to file a complaint with your local City or County Health Department. This will enable a health inspector to visit the premises and make recommendations.
In some cases, a health inspector may require immediate action, but in others the landlord might receive a warning or fine instead. Accordingly, you should keep in mind that your relief might vary from one location to the next.
Your local health inspector cannot force landlords to rectify situations you have caused. This means that if the health-related issue is due to your own poor housekeeping or abuse of the property, you are unlikely to prevail. This is why you must carefully document that your landlord is responsible for the problem, to include any actions you yourself have taken in order to fix it.
Filing Local Complaints
Some cities throughout Texas may have local offices where you can file a landlord complaint. A few of these local offices are listed below.
Austin Tenant's Council
According to its website, the Austin Tenant's Council is dedicated to providing "safe, decent, and fair housing for all." This group is an advocate for tenant's rights, and offers assistance in a number of areas including lockouts and evictions. To receive free telephone counseling, contact this group at 512-474-1961.
Texas Tenant's Union
Based in Dallas, the Texas Tenant's Union is a non-profit group that advocates for tenants in a number of ways, including:
- Holding free tenant workshops.
- Providing a Handbook of Tenant's Rights.
- Counseling individuals on the best ways to resolve issues with landlords.
- Training people to represent themselves on landlord/tenant disputes in Justice Court.
- Organizing assistance and providing referrals.
To contact the Texas Tenant's Union, visit their physical location at 8035 ERL Thornton Freeway Suite 535 in Dallas, or give them a call at 214-823-2733.
Housing Crisis Center
The Housing Crisis Center is also based in Dallas, but offers a Legal Clinic to tenants throughout the state. This clinic is primarily designed to assist with legal issues affecting homelessness; however, you may find some very useful information pertaining to tenant rights as well. It's operated by the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program, so you will receive quality legal advice. Find out more about the clinic by calling 214-828-4244.
Houston Apartment Association
The Houston Apartment Association advocates for the fair treatment of multifamily tenants in Houston. They are actively involved at the state, federal, and local levels in lobbying for legislation to this effect. Through this agency, you can complete an online complaint form, which will then be forwarded to your landlord. Along with your online complaint form, you should also submit written documentation of your issue through snail mail to:
Houston Apartment Association
Resident Relations Department
4810 Westway Park Boulevard
Houston, TX 77041
Don't Mess with Texas Renters
The Texas Property Code ensures tenants have the right to safe housing and the peaceful enjoyment of their rental dwelling. If your landlord has violated your rights through discrimination, harassment, or maintaining unsafe premises, there are multiple ways to hold him or her accountable. The above are only a few resources that you can use to obtain relief. If you still have further questions, please feel free to contact us.