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New Laws for 2010 and 2011

  

  • Lease Termination - Lease termination rights for sexual assault survivors.   
  • Smoke Detectors - Rental owner must provide a visual smoke detector requested for some one who is hearing impaired.   
  • Lease Guarantors - a lease guarantor’s obligation may only continue beyond the initial lease term if the guarantor has signed an agreement that states the last date on which a renewal can be entered into and for which the guarantor would be obligated.   
  • Utility Disconnections - Utilities may only disconnected by the property owner in certain cases.   
  • Code Citations - This bill amends the statute that prohibits an employee from being cited for a code violation.   
  • Equitable Appraisals - Requests appraisal districts to use property specific information provided by the owner in valuing the property.   
  • Comptroller Oversight - State the comptroller’s property value study from an annual sales ratio study to a biennial one.   
  • Administrative Hearings -This legislation establishes a pilot program in Bexar, Cameron, El Paso, Harris, Tarrant and Travis counties to allow commercial property owners with property valued at more than $1 million the option of appealing ARB decisions.   
  • JP Jurisdiction to Order Repairs -Allows JPs to order repairs.    
  • Franchise Tax - Increases the small business exemption to $1 million for the next two years.   

Houston ordinance requires registration of properties by January 31, 2010  

Houston’s new property inspection ordinance requires all Houston properties with three or more units to register with the City of Houston by January 31. The good news? It’s free of charge, it’s all online at http://www.houstonmultifamily.org/ and it’s not that difficult once you have the information that’s required. Here’s what you need before you start:   

Certificates of Occupancy (CO’s) – You need ALL the certificates of occupancy for each property. Every building has one, and it’s supposed to be posted in the management office. If your property has eight buildings, you’ll need eight CO’s so you can enter the numbers when you register. If your property has current CO’s (life safety inspections were completed back in the 1990’s, etc.), but they’re missing, you can purchase replacements by calling the Occupancy Inspection Section at (713) 535-7730.   

HCAD Account Number – Each property has an account number with the Harris County Appraisal District. Get it by going to www.hcad.org and searching for your property by street address in the “Real Property Search” section under “Record Search.”   

Unit Mix – You need to know the number of units of each bedroom type in each building.   

Fire Hydrants – You need to know the total number of fire hydrants on your property.   

Swimming Pools – Know the number of pools, if any.   

Occupancy – Know the current occupancy percentage of the property.   

Date opened – Know the date, or at least the year, the property opened for business.   

Pay phones – Know the number of pay telephones, if any, on the property.   

Contact information for owner, management company and manager: You do NOT need to enter home addresses or telephone numbers.   

Make sure you’ve entered this information online by the end of January, and make sure you print and post a copy of your registration in the property’s leasing office.   

  • If you have problems with registration, contact the City of Houston at713-535-7900.If you have any trouble with registration, please let the City know and copy us at govaffairs@haaonline.org.   
  • New Houston Property Directory Requirement – This isn’t required until January 1, 2011, but Houston properties will be required to have a property directory at every vehicular entrance (you should already have one at your “principle entrance”). Put it within 8 feet of your driveway, where ambulance drivers and pizza delivery guys can see it.   
  • Ban on Attention Getting Devices in Houston  – The Houston City Council passed an ordinance in 2008 which bans several types of “attention getting devices,” including:  balloons, streamers, giant inflatables.  Check here for exceptions and more information about this law.    

  • Utility Disconnections – Under a law passed earlier this year, starting January 1, 2010, utilities can only be disconnected for “bona fide repairs, construction or emergencies.” This has long been the case for water, but will now apply to electricity as well, so disconnecting electricity for non-payment in a mastermetered property will no longer be allowed.    

  • Visual Smoke Detectors – Under another new law, an apartment owner must provide a visual smoke detector at the owner’s expense for a hearing-impaired resident.    

  • Lease Termination for Sexual Assault This law creates lease termination rights for certain crime victims if an assault occurred within the previous 6 months at the property and specific documentation is provided.    

  • Lease Guarantors – The new TAA lease will reflect this, but another new state law prevents lease guarantors from being obligated beyond the initial lease term under certain circumstances.   

       

    Water Conservation Rebate – Houston hit apartment properties with a significant increase in water rates last year, but HAA was able to win adoption of a water conservation rebate program for multifamily properties. Register by March 15 (there’s no charge to register). If your property uses less water for any or all of four 6-month periods, measured against the same period in 2010, your property can receive a check for up to $25 per unit. The rebate is for you, and does not have to be passed to residents. The first measurement period is January – June 2011, measured against January – June 2010. For details, and to print the application, visit the legislative tab at www.haaonline.org   

    Smoke Alarms – As you probably read in ABODE Magazine, HAA’s biggest issue in 2010 was a Fire Code provision that would have required nearly all Houston apartment properties to immediately retrofit with monitored, pull-station fire alarms at a cost of around $600 per unit. After months of tough negotiations, HAA was able to get that provision removed for most properties. In exchange, however, every Houston apartment property needs to install single-station, battery-operated smoke alarms (smoke detectors) in every bedroom that doesn’t already have one by the end of 2011. Most properties built since the 1980s already have bedroom smoke detectors, and new construction is required to have them installed, interconnected and hard-wired with a battery backup. The retrofit provision requires only the battery operated smoke alarms, with no hard wiring nor interconnection. Install them anywhere on the bedroom ceiling at least four inches from any wall, and not in front of an air conditioning vent. If the device is listed for wall mounting, it can be mounted on a wall with the top of the device not less than 4, nor more than 12 inches from the ceiling, and at least 4 inches from any corner wall junction.  

    Fire Alarms – While most garden-style apartment properties are exempt from the pull-station fire alarm requirement, retrofit will be required in unsprinklered properties with units that open into enclosed interior corridors. An open breezeway is not an interior corridor. The system has to sound an audible alarm that reaches a specific decibel range in each bedroom, but the system is not required to be monitored. Installation is required by the end of 2012 or 2013, depending on the size of the property. Contact your preferred HAA-member fire alarm company or visit the HAA website for further details.  

    Drainage Fee – In 2010, voters approved a city-wide drainage fee, which will be charged to all property owners – probably as a line item on water bills - starting in July 2011. The amount of the fee is still being calculated, and HAA is working closely with the city to make sure your interests are protected. A drainage fee charged on a water bill can be passed through to residents on properties with an approved “RUBS” allocation system in place.  

    Habitability – Every property in the city limits of Houston should now be registered under the Habitability Ordinance. If you still need to register, or if you have any question about your every-fourth-year habitability inspection, visit http://www.houstonmultifamily.org/ . Registration is free of charge, and helps make sure onsite employees cannot be held personally liable for alleged code violations.  

    You are the eyes and ears of HAA! Let us know if your property – especially those in smaller cities throughout the Houston area – encounters a new inspection, a new fee, or any proposed change in your relationship with local government. Help us help you! Contact us at govaffairs@haaonline.org .