A deadly heatwave has swept across North America for the past few years, and many states, like Texas, have endured record-breaking temperatures. As Texans face the tail end of this summer’s heat, a working air conditioner has become a necessity. Most residences come equipped with air conditioning, but what happens if yours stops working properly?
Renters in need of air conditioning repairs have certain rights that protect them. The Texas Attorney General Tenants’ Rights Handbook mandates that landlords are held responsible for fixing any condition that threatens a tenant’s safety or physical health. This can include the scorching sun on an average summer day. It is a landlord’s obligation to provide suitable/acceptable living conditions to their tenants.
As long as the damage is caused by normal wear and tear and not the fault of the tenant, a guest or invitee, the landlord must make an active effort to repair or remedy a condition if:
- the tenant specifies the condition that needs to be repaired or remedied
- the tenant is current on the rent
- the condition materially affects the physical health or safety of an ordinary tenant.
In Texas, the lack of functioning Air conditioning during the brutal summer would qualify the tenant for repairs.
Tenants must provide a proper written notice of the need for repairs to their landlord or apartment management. Lone Star Legal Aid has drafted a repair request letter template that can be used by tenants. They should also document the conditions that require repair by taking photos and making copies of all correspondence. Documentation should include:
· The date of the repair condition and request
· Tenant’s name and address
· Description of repair problem
· Statement that the problem is a threat to health or safety
· A request that the repairs begin in a reasonable amount of time*
· A request for a written response if the work cannot be completed within 7 days
· A signature
*7 days is presumed to be a reasonable amount of time for most repairs. In the case of an emergency, this window can be reduced to 24-48 hours.
The landlord must then begin and complete repairs within this window or issue a written response to the tenant(s) if the repairs will take longer.
If a landlord fails or refuses to respond to a repair request, tenants have the right to terminate the lease. To do so, the tenant must have sent the notice to repair, cannot owe any rent, and was not responsible for creating the condition that requires repair.
Provide written notice about the reason you are terminating the lease and include the date that you will vacate the unit. If you are leaving before the end of the month, you have the right to a refund for prepaid rent for the days that you will not be there. If you have abided by the rules of your lease, you are also entitled to a refund of your security deposit (excluding damages as outlined by your lease). The landlord will need a forwarding address in order to fulfill the obligation of refunding the deposit or any other subsequent fees included in the lease agreement.
If they do not wish to move, tenants also have the option to take the matter to Justice (small claims) court and sue their landlord for repairs and damages. The court can order the landlord to make the repairs and can even reduce your rent from the date of the original repair request. If a tenant can prove damages caused by the failure to repair, the court can also recover from the landlord a civil penalty of one month’s rent (plus $500-1,000), reasonable attorney’s fees, and the cost of court.
Lone Star Legal Aid is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit law firm focused on advocacy on behalf of low-income and underserved populations. Lone Star Legal Aid serves millions of people at 125% of federal poverty guidelines that reside in 72 counties in the eastern and Gulf Coast regions of Texas, and 4 counties of southwest Arkansas. Lone Star Legal Aid focuses its resources on maintaining, enhancing, and protecting income and economic stability; preserving housing; improving outcomes for children; establishing and sustaining family safety and stability, health and well‐being; and assisting populations with special vulnerabilities, including those who have disabilities, or who are elderly, homeless, or have limited English language skills. To learn more about Lone Star Legal Aid, visit our website at http://www.lonestarlegal.org.
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