COPPERAS COVE, Texas — When a Copperas Cove resident decided to withhold rent to make her landlord fix a boarded up window in front of her apartment, Tammy Welch thought she was using the last option open to her. Instead, she got evicted.
But what should tenants in Welch's situation do?
While renters do not have to the right to simply stop paying, they do have other options. In some cases, renters can deduct an amount from their rent to pay for repairs, according to Texas property codes.
It’s complicated, but here’s the breakdown.
According to the Texas Attorney General, the renter does have some rights in cases where a problem or needed repair would affect the health and safety of the renter.
The website says, "if the landlord won't make repairs needed to protect your health, safety, or security, and you follow the procedures required by law," renters have the following options:
- End the lease
- Have the problem repaired and deduct the cost of the repair from your rent
- File suit to force the landlord to make the repairs
It is important to understand a renter can only deduct the cost of repairs if it affects their health and safety, and the landlord can debate this in court.
Texas property code section 92.058 listed on the AG's website says:
“You do not have a right to withhold rent because the landlord fails to make repairs when the condition needing repair does not materially affect your physical health or safety. If you try this method, the landlord may file suit against you.”
Finally, Texas law doesn't recognize text message conversations as a way to communicate needed repairs when withholding rent.
The Texas AG website says renters must send a dated letter that describes the problem by certified mail, with a return receipt requested. They must then give the landlord at least seven days to try and address the issue. If the landlord does not, the renter must then repeat the process and wait another week.
According to Texas property codes section 92.056 and section 92.0561, renters must follow these steps to recover their money:
- Send the landlord a dated letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, or by registered mail, outlining the needed repairs. You may also deliver the letter in person. Keep a copy of the letter. Be sure that your rent is current when the notice is received.
- Your landlord should make a diligent effort to repair the problem within a reasonable time after receipt of the notice. The law presumes seven days to be a reasonable time, but the landlord can rebut this presumption. If the landlord has not made a diligent effort to complete the repair within seven days and you did not have the first notice letter delivered to your landlord via certified mail, return receipt requested, or via registered mail, you will need to send a second notice letter regarding the needed repairs.
- If the landlord still has not made diligent efforts to repair the problem within a reasonable time after receipt of the notice letter sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, or by registered mail, you may be entitled to terminate the lease, repair the problem and deduct the cost from your rent, or get a court to order that the repairs be made. You should consult with an attorney before taking any of these actions.
After all that, if the landlord still hasn't made an effort, the site says renters can finally deduct rent to pay for repairs.
The Texas AG says it recommends renters to consult an attorney before taking any action. If the lease agreement prohibits the renter from paying a third party for repairs, that could be an issue as well.
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