In the current, tight housing market both tenants and landlords question what obligations and rights they have when temperatures drop. Winters have become more unpredictable, colder and wetter across Texas, adding to landlords’ compliance duties.
Seasonal changes put both landlords and tenants on heightened alert about safety and comfort during abnormal weather conditions. Weather disasters also created a shortage of livable housing. There are more people competing for limited housing which affects rents, the quality of tenants and increases wear and tear on properties. Despite current market conditions favorable to landlords, landlords must remain careful to comply with the laws.
What Are Landlords Legally Required to Do?
As a landlord, the laws require that you keep rental properties “livable.” That means that you must repair or keep the mechanical, safety, and other essential structures and parts of a rental home in working order, despite inclement weather or conditions. Examples of such structures and systems are:
- Heating systems
- Plumbing systems
- Electrical systems
- Pest control, disease and safetyYou must keep the property at a minimum temperature and make sure that all systems function safely. As a landlord, you can make limited, random inspections, evict destructive and non-paying tenants and determine how best to make certain repairs. However, you must comply with existing laws and regulations.
What Should You Do to Avoid Tenant Problems?
You should always have a written lease or rental agreement in place. This agreement, or contract will govern and resolve the majority of any problems that come up with tenants if it is drafted properly. An attorney will ensure that the document follows all applicable laws.
Comply with all anti-discrimination laws in advertising and selecting and rejecting tenants and on your application.
Understand the legal reasons you can reject applicants such as bad credit history, negative references from past landlords, past payment history or criminal problems.
Make sure you know the very specific state and local rules on raising rents, eviction notices, required disclosures, eviction process, and security deposits.
Provide habitable housing that meets temperature rules, is safe and has functioning water and sewer systems.
Always sign a written agreement that details the rental or lease terms, including the length of the lease and the monthly payment.
Don’t retaliate against tenants exercising their legal rights or intentionally withhold timely repayment of security deposits.
What Rights Do Tenants Have if You Don’t Fix Things?
The law requires that property is maintained at a minimum level and imposes a “warranty of habitability” on the property. If the landlord refuses to fix or provide services that are essential to making a rental home “livable,” tenants have rights that may cost you more in the long run.
In some situations, tenants themselves can make repairs that restore habitability and then, legally deduct the cost from the rent payment. If your inaction causes other, more serious consequences, you could find yourself a party to a civil lawsuit or face penalties from state regulators.