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Renter Rights | Winter storm damage leaves tenants stuck in apartments that need repair

Tenants at The Brooke Apartments in Temple hoped to have their lease canceled after severe water damage. But, apartment management isn't required to do so.

TEMPLE, Texas — Allen Wilson's son, Jessie Vansickler, was living in The Brooke Apartments Feb. 14 when the freezing winter weather started to arrive. On Feb. 16, a water pipe broke and Vansickler moved back in with his parents. Wilson said it turned out to be the best move because things only got worse. Wilson said they returned four days later to find the apartment flooded.

"He walked in and it was flooding, the pipes had burst," Wilson said. "A lot of the flooding came from the stairway and kitchen."

Wilson said the water was cut off again as the apartment tried to make repairs. He said as soon as they fixed one leak, another one would turn up.

"They are busting holes in the walls. They find a leak, they fix it, then they try to turn the water on and find another leak so they bust another hole in the wall," Wilson said. 

Wilson said there are now four holes around the apartment, which include one in the ceiling. There is still water leaking though the light fixture in the kitchen. He said the carpet was flooded and has still not been replaced. 

Wilson said his son had two months left on his lease. The family has asked for their son's lease to be cancelled but the apartment complex has still not agreed to do so.  

Legally, the complex is not obligated to end the lease.

According to the lease agreement, The Brooke Apartments has the ability to terminate the lease due to substantial damage to the apartment or if needed repairs pose a danger to the tenants. The tenants, however, do not have the ability to make this call. 

Tenants do have some rights under Texas law, but in times of natural disaster, the law often favors the landlord and provides more time to make repairs. 

If a tenant formally requests a landlord to fix an issue, Texas law gives the landlord 'reasonable time" to make repairs. This is typically seven days, but the landlord can dispute that. 

The tenant can then, in some cases, contract someone else to make repairs. However, during times of natural disaster, the landlord can stall this process up to 30 days due to the limited availability of labor or materials. 

The tenant can also ask to be moved to another apartment that is not damaged, but the landlord is not obligated to do this either. 

6 News repeatedly asked The Brooke apartments Tuesday if tenants that wished to end their lease would be allowed to do so.

Field Operations Manager Erica Pendleton eventually responded to the question via email and stated, "We are reviewing each resident's situation on a case by case basis, while complying with Fair Housing Laws." 

Texans who are displaced, or stuck in a damaged apartment, following last months winter storm can still apply for help from FEMA. Find out how to start that process here.

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