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Making the Argument
The Hard Truth: Read Your Lease, or Waive Your Rights
By Michelle Fulton
September 21, 2004
The information in this column is not intended as legal advice but to provide a general understanding of the law. Any readers with legal problems, including those whose questions are addressed here, should consult attorneys for advice on their particular circumstances.
Q: I live in an apartment complex that I believe is substandard. Everything is broken, it’s filthy, the toilets leak, the apartments are infested with bugs and roaches, there has been damage done to our apartment by water overflowing from the toilets. We’ve gone to the office and complained numerous times, but so far nothing has been done. We want to move and break our lease. Can we do that?
A: That depends. First, you need to read your lease. Most apartment leases spell out a requirement that you put requests for repairs in writing. However, there are a few major repairs that are not required to be put in writing under Texas Law. Those are fire, smoke, gas, explosions, overflowing sewage, uncontrollable running water, electrical shorts, or a crime in progress.
All other requests for repairs should be put in writing and mailed to the manager’s office certified mail, return receipt requested. Once they receive your request, they have a reasonable amount of time to cure the problem.
Texas does not have a set definition of “reasonable,” but most likely 7-10 days would be found to be reasonable for minor repairs. If your air conditioning goes out in the summer and they do not fix it within 24 hours, you can always call the health department. They will generally make the apartments fix the air conditioning promptly (the same applies to heat in the winter).
If they fail to repair your apartment in a reasonable time, you have three options: 1) You can terminate the lease; 2) have the condition repaired; 3) sue and force a rent reduction; or 4) recover damages of one month’s rent plus $500.00. If you hire an attorney to represent you and your suit is successful, then the landlord is liable for your attorney’s fees.
Bottom line: Read your lease carefully and comply with all of its provisions, or else you are in danger of waiving your remedies. Reading is fundamental!
Michelle Fulton is an attorney at The Fulton Law Firm, PLLC. If you have a legal problem you would like her to address, you may e-mail your request to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail your request to her at 806 Hwy. 3, Houston, Texas 77058.
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