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Renter FAQ's

 

Here are answers to some of the most common questions asked by apartment residents. For more information, call HAA or check out the Texas Apartment Association's Web site at www.taa.org.   

 

  1. My landlord wants to charge me for water. Can he do that?   
  2. What do I do if I have questions about my apartment or lease, or if I have a complaint about my apartment or apartment management?   
  3. Can I withhold rent when maintenance repairs are not taken care of?   
  4. Can I be locked out of my apartment for non-payment of rent?   
  5. I'm in the military, and I'm being transferred or deployed. Can I get out of my lease?   
  6. Can I still be held liable for my lease if I am being transferred or laid off from my job?   
  7. Can the manager take items from my apartment for non-payment of rent?   
  8. Can the management enter my apartment when I am not at home?   
  9. Can I deduct the amount of my security deposit from my last month's rent payment?   
  10. I would like to know exactly when, how much and how often a rental increase can be given. Also, is there a ceiling on the amount of any given increase? If so, what is the highest amount?   
  11. My apartment has been severely flooded and most of my personal belongings were damaged. The cause of the flood was through no fault of my own. Who is responsible for replacing all of my items that I lost?  
  12. How much grace period must I be given before my rent is considered late?   
  13. How long after I move out does the owner have to return my security deposit?  
  14. What should I know about Bed Bugs?  
  15. What protections do renters have if their property is foreclosed upon?  
  16. My property is "All Bills Paid". What rights do I have if the owner fails to pay and my utilities are disconnected?  
  17. What are the rights of the residents to contest a water bill?  
  18. Can an apartment administration profits from the water bill?  
  19. What are the criteria to divide the water bill among residents?  
  20. What laws govern towing?  
  21. Who is liable if damage or theft results after a tow is performed? 
  22. Who can be towed at an apartment community? 
  23. Can emergency vehicles (police cars, ambulances, fire trucks, other vehicles belonging to government agencies) be towed? 
  24. Does my property have to give me notice before they tow my vehicle?  
  25. My vehicle has an out of date license or inspection sticker, can it be towed?  
  26. My vehicle is parked in a space that is not authorized for my vehicle, can it be towed? 
  27. Can towing companies "patrol" a property for improperly parked vehicles? 
  28. Who should I contact if I have questions or concerns about the way my vehicle was towed? 

My landlord wants to charge me for water. Can he/she do that?  

All apartment residents pay for water. Some through their rent, some separately. As water becomes more expensive, many owners are using submeters, or a water allocation system to bill residents for water directly.  

If you agree by lease to pay separately for water, there are rules the owner of your property must follow. He must use a billing system that is approved by the Public Utilities Commission and follow certain other guidelines.An apartment community can charge all residents the same amount for water and just factor the set amount into their rent each month, or they can use a water allocation formula. 

  

See questions 17-19 for more information.  

  

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What do I do if I have questions about my apartment or lease, or if I have a complaint about my apartment or apartment management?  

Apartment and other rental housing residents can contact the Houston Apartment Association at (713) 595-0300 and to speak with a trained consultant to ask questions about renters' rights and leases or to register a complaint against their property owner. This is a free service and not an emergency service.  

Calls are accepted on Wednesday from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and Thursday and Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

HAA does not respond to e-mails.  You may fill out a complaint form and it will be directed to the HAA staff. Resident Relations online complaint form. Any related documents to the complaint can be  submitted to HAA by mailing to 4810 Westway Park Blvd, 77041and are forwarded to the property owner or management company for response to HAA.  

 If the complaint is about a security deposit disposition at an HAA member property, and the complaint is not resolved after opportunities for both sides to respond, the complaint is forwarded to a Resident Relations Committee. At the committee meeting, all documentation is reviewed, and a decision is reached based upon state law and the documentation provided.   

If a resident already has retained an attorney, then it is not appropriate for HAA to intervene.   

   

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Can I withhold rent when maintenance repairs are not taken care of?  

It is a state law that a resident cannot withhold rent for needed repairs. If the resident does with hold rent for non-repair, the owner has a right to evict for non-payment of rent.  

  

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Can I be locked out of my apartment for non-payment of rent?  

The Texas Civil Statute, Section 92.0081 states that the landlord clearly has the right to change the door locks on an apartment unit if the rent is delinquent. However, they have to first notify the resident at least three days before the locks are to be changed. After the lock-out the owner must leave notice where the key can be obtained 24 hours a day. They cannot deny the resident access to the apartment.  

  

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I'm in the military, and I'm being transferred or deployed. Can I get out of my lease?   

If you are in active service and you've received orders of a permanent change of station or you've been deployed and are not continuing to receive a housing allowance, the TAA Lease Contract requires the owner to allow you and your spouse to move out early. This is in Paragraph 31 of the TAA Lease Contract. That paragraph does not apply if you knew about the change of duty station prior to signing a lease; it also does not cover any residents (other than your spouse) who may be living in the same rental property.   

  

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Can I still be held liable for my lease if I am being transferred or laid off from my job?  

Yes. Unless you have a transfer clause in your lease, you can be liable for the remainder of the rent through the end of your lease or until the apartment is rented to another occupant.  

  

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Can the manager take items from my apartment for non-payment of rent?  

Section 54.041 of the Texas Civil Statute states that non-exempt items can be held providing that the clause is in the lease. It must also be either underlined or in bold print. If you have this clause in your lease, the management may seize property that is non-exempt by statute and hold it until the rent is paid.  

  

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Can the management enter my apartment when I am not at home?  

Under the TAA Lease Contract, the apartment management and/or maintenance personnel do not have to wait until you are home to enter your apartment for:  

  • Requested repairs.   
  • Estimating repair costs.   
  • Pest control; preventive maintenance.   
  • Filter changes.   
  • Testing or replacing smoke-detector batteries.   
  • Retrieving unreturned tools or appliances.   
  • Preventing waste of utilities; exercising contractual lien.   
  • Leaving notices.   
  • Delivering, installing, reconnecting or replacing appliances, furniture, equipment, or security devices.   
  • Removing or rekeying unauthorized security devices.   
  • Removing unauthorized window coverings.   
  • Stopping excessive noise.   
  • Removing health or safety hazards.   
  • Removing unauthorized pets.   
  • Cutting off electricity according to statute.   
  • Retrieving property owned or leased by former residents.   
  • Inspections when immediate danger to person or property is suspected.   
  • Entry by a law-enforcement officer with search or arrest warrant.   
  • Showing apartment to prospective residents (after move-out or vacate notice has been given).   
  • Showing apartment to government inspectors, fire marshals, lenders, appraisers, prospective buyers or insurance agents.   

However, a notice of entry is to be left inside your apartment stating that they were inside your apartment and the reason.  

  

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Can I deduct the amount of my security deposit from my last month's rent payment?  

Your security deposit is not a part of your rent payments. If you deduct the amount of your security deposit from your final rent check, you could be liable for the cost of reletting fee in addition to the unpaid rent.  

  

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I would like to know exactly when, how much and how often a rental increase can be given. Also, is there a ceiling on the amount of any given increase? If so, what is the highest amount?  

Under the terms of the TAA lease, no rental increases can be given until the initial lease term has expired. After the lease has expired, an increase of any amount (the state of Texas has no rent control) can be given provided the resident has been served with a 35 day notice prior to the effective date of the new rental amount.  

  

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My apartment has been severely flooded and most of my personal belongings were damaged. The cause of the flood was through no fault of my own. Who is responsible for replacing all of my items that I lost?  

The TAA/HAA lease contains a clause which states that the owner will not be liable for any damages to the resident's personal belongings or to that person. Only if the disaster occurred due to the owner's own negligence will the resident have a cause of action. The lease strongly suggests that the residents secure insurance to protect themselves against any personal losses.  

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How much grace period must I be given before my rent is considered late?  

The grace period allowed in the TAA lease does not refer to when the rent is actually due, it simply refers to when the late charges will begin. The lease states that rent is due and payable on the 1st of each month. This means that if rent is late the earliest you can be charged a late fee is the 3rd of the month. How much grace period (if any) is given before late charges begin depends on the owner and what is stated in the lease contract.  

  

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How long after I move out does the owner have to return my security deposit?  

If you gave a forwarding address and did not owe any rent, the owner legally has to contact you in writing within 30 days about your deposit.  

  

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What should I know about Bed Bugs?  

  

Bed Bugs are rearing their tiny, blood-sucking heads in Houston area apartments, businesses and homes. Please check out these resources for dealing with bed bugs from the National Apartment Association. If you suspect that you have a bed bug infestation, please contact your management office immediately. The more quickly that an infestation can be appropriately treated, the less likely it is to spread to other renters. Tips for identifying bed bugs can be found here.  

  

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 What protections do renters have if their property is foreclosed upon?  

 The following protections for residents are in place in Federal Law, in  the event of foreclosure on a rental property (as of May 2009):  

  

  

Section 702 - EFFECT OF FORECLOSURE ON PREEXISTING TENANCY   

a. In General - In the case of any foreclosure on a federally-related mortgage loan or on any dwelling or residential real property after the date of enactment of this title, any immediate successor in interest in such property pursuant to the foreclosure shall assume such interest subject to--
1. the provision, by such successor in interest of a notice to vacate to any bona fide tenant at least 90 days before the effective date of such notice; and
2. the rights of any bona fide tenant, as of the date of such notice of foreclosure--
A. under any bona fide lease entered into before the notice of foreclosure to occupy the premises until the end of the remaining term of the lease, except that a successor in interest may terminate a lease effective on the date of sale of the unit to a purchaser who will occupy the unit as a primary residence, subject to the receipt by the tenant of the 90 day notice under paragraph (1); or
B. without a lease or with a lease terminable at will under State law, subject to the receipt by the tenant of the 90 day notice under subsection (1), except that nothing under this section shall affect the requirements for termination of any Federal- or State-subsidized tenancy or of any State or local law that provides longer time periods or other additional protections for tenants.
b. Bona Fide Lease or Tenancy - For purposes of this section, a lease or tenancy shall be considered bona fide only if--
1. the mortgagor or the child, spouse, or parent of the mortgagor under the contract is not the tenant;
2. the lease or tenancy was the result of an arms-length transaction; and
3. the lease or tenancy requires the receipt of rent that is not substantially less than fair market rent for the property or the unit's rent is reduced or subsidized due to a Federal, State or local subsidy.
c. Definition - For purposes of this section, the term "federally-related mortgage loan" has the same meaning as in section 3 of the
Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act of 1974 (12 U.S.C. 2602).

Section 703 - EFFECT OF FORECLOSURE ON SECTION 8 TENANCIES
Section 8(o)(7) of the United States Housing Act of 1937 (42 U.S.C. 1437f(o)(7)) is amended--
  

1. by inserting before the semicolon in subparagraph (C) the following: "and in the case of an owner who is an immediate successor in interest pursuant to foreclosure during the term of the lease vacating the property prior to sale shall not constitute other good cause, except that the owner may terminate the tenancy effective on the date of transfer of the unit to the owner if the owner--
i. will occupy the unit as a primary residence; and
ii. has provided the tenant a notice to vacate at least 90 days before the effective date of such notice; and
2. by inserting at the end of subparagraph (F) the following: "In the case of any foreclosure on any federally-related mortgage loan (as that term is defined in section 3 of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act of 1974 (12 U.S.C. 2602)) or on any residential real property in which a recipient of assistance under this subsection resides, the immediate successor in interest in such property pursuant to the foreclosure shall assume such interest subject to the lease between the prior owner and the tenant and to the housing assistance payments contract between the prior owner and the public housing agency for the occupied unit, except that this provision and the provisions related to foreclosure in subparagraph (C) shall not shall not affect any State or local law that provides longer time periods or other additional protections for tenants.
 
  

  

  

Residents should have at least 90 days notice before termination of their lease agreement(s).  Renters must continue to pay rent.  If renters are not paying rent or have some other lease violation, eviction may be sought.  In many cases, sustaining and increasing occupancy is a priority and the receiver that takes over the property will want to keep residents who meet their criteria for tenancy.  

  

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My property is "All Bills Paid". What rights do I have if the owner fails to pay and my utilities are disconnected?  

If an owner does not pay their bills to a utility, and the utility is disconnected, renters have many rights under state law.

Here is what the Texas Property Code (92.301) says:
  

§ 92.301. LANDLORD LIABILITY TO TENANT FOR UTILITY CUTOFF.

(a) A landlord who has expressly or impliedly agreed in the lease to furnish and pay for water, gas, or electric service to the tenant's dwelling is liable to the tenant if the utility company has cut off utility service to the tenant's dwelling or has given written notice to the tenant that such utility service is about to be cut off because of the landlord's nonpayment of the utility bill.
  

(b) If a landlord is liable to the tenant under Subsection (a) of this section, the tenant may:
(1) pay the utility company money to reconnect or avert the cutoff of utilities according to this section;
(2) terminate the lease if the termination notice is in writing and move-out is to be within 30 days from the date the tenant has notice from the utility company of a future cutoff or notice of an actual cutoff, whichever is sooner;
(3) deduct from the tenant's rent, without necessity of judicial action, the amounts paid to the utility company to reconnect or avert a cutoff;
(4) if the lease is terminated by the tenant, deduct the tenant's security deposit from the tenant's rent without necessity of lawsuit or obtain a refund of the tenant's security deposit pursuant to law;
(5) if the lease is terminated by the tenant, recover a pro rata refund of any advance rentals paid from the date of termination or the date the tenant moves out, whichever is later; (6) recover actual damages, including but not limited to moving costs, utility connection fees, storage fees, and lost wages from work; and
(7) recover court costs and attorney's fees, excluding any attorney's fees for a cause of action for damages relating to a personal injury.
  

(c) When deducting for the tenant's payment of the landlord's utility bill under this section, the tenant shall submit to the landlord a copy of a receipt from the utility company which evidences the amount of payment made by the tenant to reconnect or avert cutoff of utilities.   

(d) The tenant remedies under this section are effective on the date the tenant has notice from the utility company of a future cutoff or notice of an actual cutoff, whichever is sooner. However, the tenant's remedies under this section shall cease if:
(1) the landlord provides the tenant with written evidence from the utility that all delinquent sums due the utility have been paid in full; and
(2) at the time the tenant receives such evidence, the tenant has not yet terminated the lease or filed suit under this section.
 
  

As of January 1, 2010, landlords are not allowed to disconnect electricity for nonpayment of rent. Electricity may be disconnected in certain instances, such as for repairs. Section 92.0091 - RESIDENTIAL TENANT'S RIGHT OF RESTORATION AFTER UNLAWFUL UTILITY DISCONNECTION - describes that a renter may seek a writ of restoration from a Justice of the Peace, if the landlord illegally disconnects utilities.  

    

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What are the rights of a resident to contest a water bill?

Disputes about the calculation of your bill are between the renter and the property owner. The TCEQ recommends filing billing disputes in writing with the person identified on your bill to contact about disputes--usually the owner, the on-site manager, or a billing company. The owner or designated person must then investigate the dispute and report the results of the investigation to the renter in writing. The investigation and report must be completed within 30 days from the date the renter provides written notification.   

If a renter finds that a TCEQ rule has been violated, they may contact the TCEQ to file a complaint. TCEQ rules require that apartments keep the following records available for residents to inspect at the onsite manager's office during normal business hours:   

a. A copy of the water allocation statute;
b. A copy of the TCEQ water allocation rules;
c. A copy of the water utility's current rate card (available from the utility company);
d. A checklist of ideas for water conservation in your dwelling;
e. Your water utility bills for the apartment community for the current month and the preceding 12 months;
f. Your records of rent income and water bill income from residents, including the date and amount of each resident's payment of rent and water bills for the current month and the preceding 12 months; and
g. the following information relating to billing calculation in Section 291.122(e)(6) of the rules:
      1. the formula, occupancy factors, if any, and percentages used to calculate resident bills;
      2. the total number of occupants or equivalent occupants if the equivalent occupant ratio is used; and
      3. the square footage of the resident's dwelling unit and the total square footage of all units in the apartment community, used for billing if dwelling unit size is used as part of the formula.
 

Also see question 1 for more information.  

  

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Can an apartment owner profit from an allocated water bill?  

No, An apartment owner cannot profit from a water bill. In fact, in the allocation formulas permitted by the TCEQ, common areas must be excluded from the allocation to residents. A small percentage may be charged on the water bill to cover the cost of administering the billing.  

  

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What are the criteria to divide the water bill among residents?  

First, the allocation method must be laid out in the lease contract.
 
 

If you agree by lease to pay separately for water, there are rules the owner of your property must follow. If a property chooses to bill residents directly for water, they can use a water allocation formula that is set by the Texas Commission on Environment Quality
 
 

There are several different formulas for water allocation which have been approved under TCEQ rules. The rules provide that water can be allocated under any one of five formulas, but no others. The TCEQ-approved formulas are based on:  

  • actual occupancy; 
  • ratio occupancy (TCEQ formula for average number of occupants in unit); 
  • average occupancy (TCEQ formula for average number of bedrooms in unit); 
  • combination of actual occupancy and square feet of the apartment; or 
  • submetered hot/cold water, ratio to total. 

An owner cannot change the allocation formula during the lease term unless the resident consents to the change in writing in a mid-lease term agreement or in a lease renewal. Notice of the change must be given at least 35 days prior to the change. 

  

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What laws govern towing?

The Texas Operations Code, Chapter 2308 (link: http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/OC/htm/OC.2308.htm) also known as the “Texas Towing and Booting Act” gives the authority to regulate and enforce towing/booting to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulations. 

Residents and visitors should be aware that apartment community parking lots are private property. 
 

  

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Who is liable if damage or theft results after a tow is preformed?
An owner is protected from liability for damage or theft to the vehicle during towing and storage if the towing is performed by an insured towing service, the storage is performed by an insured storage company and if the towing is based on a state approved reason for towing.

Who can be towed at an apartment community? 
 

  • A vehicle improperly marked in a handicapped space  - signage identifying the space is required. 
  • A vehicle that is leaking hazardous fluid parked anywhere 
  • A vehicle obstructing an aisle, entry, exit, pedestrian or vehicle access gate, dumpster, another vehicle from moving its spot. 
  • A vehicle that is parked in a properly marked fire lane. 
  • A vehicle that is parked in a properly marked “Tow Away Zone.” 
  • A vehicle parked in any location properly marked with signs designating that unauthorized vehicles will be towed. 

Other vehicles may be towed with certain types of notice. 

  

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Can emergency vehicles (police cars, ambulances, fire trucks, other vehicles belonging to governmental agencies) be towed?

No.  They can park anywhere and cannot be towed. 
 

  

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Does my property have to give me notice before they tow my vehicle?
No.  No notice is necessary if a vehicle is illegally parked in a properly marked fire lane or is blocking an aisle, entry, exit or another vehicle from exiting its space.  No notice is necessary when the vehicle is parked in a non-fire lane zone that is brightly painted with the words “TOW AWAY ZONE” with 3 inch contrasting letters.  No notice is necessary if the vehicle is blocking a dumpster, pedestrian gate or vehicular gate, or is leaking a hazardous fluid endangering others or their property.  No notice is necessary if the vehicle is a semitrailer, truck-tractor or trailer of any kind that is parked without the property owner’s express permission (this includes U-Haul type trailers and boat trailers, with or without boats on them).
Some people believe that vehicles must be tagged prior to towing for 24 hours.  This is just a myth and is not the case. 
 

  

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My vehicle has an out of date license or inspection sticker, can it be towed?
Yes, your vehicle can be towed with proper advance notice (10 day notice prior to towing, in most cases, via hand delivery or certified letter).  The property owner must have a lease or contract with the vehicle owner prohibiting parking without a current license or inspection sticker, too. 
 

  

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My vehicle is parked in a space that is not authorized for my vehicle, can it be towed?

Yes, your vehicle can be towed, following oral or written notice.  
 

  

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Can towing companies “patrol” a property for improperly parked vehicles?
Yes.  A property owner can contract with a towing company to tow vehicles that are parked improperly on their private property.  The owner or property owners’ representative does not have to be present at the time of the tow. 
 

  

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Can a property tow based on entry signs (signs located at entrances to the property)?
Yes, the statute allows the property owner to remove vehicles illegally parked in violation of properly posted signs at ALL entrances.  The signs must comply with requirements in Section 2308.302 of the Texas Occupations Code.
 

  • The requirements include size of the signs, placement, coloring, etc. 

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Who should I contact if I have questions or concerns about the way that my vehicle was towed?  

  • First, contact your property owner and see if the issue can be resolved.   
  • The Houston Apartment Association has a Resident Relations Department that takes complaints via www.haaonline.org (click on “renters”). 
  • Questions are answered Wednesday 9 a.m.-1p.m., Thursday 9 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2 p.m. – 4 p.m. and Friday 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. and 2p.m. - 4 p.m. 
  • Per the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation:
    • “This Department does not have jurisdiction over towing fees for nonconsent tows unless the fee exceeds the fee schedule filed with the Department by the towing company. Disputes regarding the legality of a tow are decided through a requested hearing with the Justice of the Peace for the precinct where the vehicle storage facility is located.” 
    • In addition, complaints may be filed through the TDLR website at https://www.license.state.tx.us/Complaints/ComplaintForm.aspx?strRadiobutton=Tow%20Truck 
      

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