On May 7th, Governor Abbott signed SB 234 into law after the bill was passed by the state legislature with bipartisan support. This bill, which will take effect September 1, 2019, expands the rights of survivors of family violence to terminate their residential leases. Currently, Texas law allows family violence survivors to terminate their lease without penalty only if the survivor can provide documentation of a protective order or similar court documents. Protective orders are not always obtainable to survivors of family violence. When survivors cannot terminate their lease early, they are forced to choose between their safety and financial security. Once SB 234 takes effect this September, the type of documentation a survivor can use to terminate their lease will be greatly expanded. This will eliminate a significant barrier to safety for many survivors.
Because many leases end over the summer, tenants often reach out to us during this time with questions about rent increases, lease renewals, and lease terminations. A landlord’s obligations can vary depending on what kind of housing the tenant lives in.
As the weather heats up, it’s important to keep your house cool. Running air conditioning all day can be very expensive, especially if your HVAC system is not efficient, or if your home is not properly sealed. If you’re seeing unusually high electric bills in the summer, that could be a sign that your HVAC system needs to be repaired. For help enforcing your repair rights, reach out to our counseling line at 512-474-1961.
Last month marked the 51st anniversary of the Fair Housing Act. To celebrate Fair Housing Month, the City of Round Rock and the Fair Housing Program of the Austin Tenants Council teamed up to o er a fair housing workshop at the RAAB House in Round Rock on April 10, 2019. Participants were able to learn general information about the Federal Fair Housing Act as Amended and time was spent specifically talking about reasonable accommodations and reasonable modifications.
We strive to find new strategies for dealing with the challenge of housing discrimination. Volunteer testers are needed who can objectively gather and report information about the availability of housing while posing as a prospective renter or homebuyer.
This legislative session, Texas legislators have proposed many bills that could impact tenants. The following are a few bills which address issues that tenants commonly ask us about. For more information on these and other proposed bills, see the Texas Legislature’s website (capitol.texas.gov). We encourage tenants to reach out to community members and state representatives to share their thoughts on how these bills could impact housing rights.
While we understand that sending a certified letter is more expensive and time-consuming than communicating through email or text, it is crucial that tenants communicate all requests in a way that complies with the lease agreement and the Texas Property Code. Otherwise, a tenant may have trouble seeking legal remedies. The Texas Property Code does not provide a definition of written notice, but it does acknowledge certified mail as a way to communicate and track repair requests. It does not address email or text.
ATC is still in the process of moving to a new location. During this transition, we do not have a public office and unfortunately cannot accommodate walk-in appointments. Anyone who would like a counseling session or would like to purchase a lease packet should call 512-474-7006 to schedule an appointment at one of our temporary counseling locations in Central East Austin.
On December 1st, the Austin Tenants Council announced that its Board of Directors had chosen Jeannie Nelson to serve as the organization’s new Executive Director. Nelson joins ATC following nearly three years as the Director of Dental Services at AIDS Services of Austin (ASA). Before working with ASA, Nelson was Lead Dental Hygienist at Austin Dental Arts. She also brings many years of experience working in human resource management.
It’s wonderful to come in from the cold and take a warm shower or bath, but what if your water just won’t warm up? All Texas tenants have a right to hot water that reaches a minimum temperature of 120°F. If your rental unit does not meet this standard, call our telephone counseling line (512-474-1961), reach out through online counseling, or schedule an appointment to talk about the steps you can take to enforce your right to hot water.
ATC would like to thank CAN for recognizing the work that we do on a daily basis to try to help Central Texans make sure that they have safe, decent and fair housing. We would also like to congratulate the other agencies and individuals that were recognized and thank them for all of their work to ensure that fair housing remains a priority in Central Texas.
This past September, ATC launched its new website. A group of volunteer graduate students contributed their web design skills and competed in OpenAIR, a contest by Knowbility.org, to make this possible. Special thanks to Jayne Cravens at Knowbility, and team Julia: Julia Wu, Susan Doong, Nealon Suthersan, Lauren Vanvlierbergen, and Joshua Walker.
If you have an emotional support animal or service animal and are being charged a fee or feel you are not being allowed to keep the animal, please call our telephone counseling line at: 512-474-1961. A counselor will listen to your story and refer you to our fair housing department where a fair housing specialist will respond to you within 24 - 48 hours to review the facts and determine next steps, if any.
Fair Housing Specialist Cruz Garcia assisted Ms. Nieves and her mother with asking for a reasonable accommodation – in this case Ms. Sanchez needed to be released from the lease contract without penalty because she could no longer use and enjoy the dwelling due to her disabilities. Management of the property agreed to release Ms. Sanchez from the lease contract without penalty.
Under the Fair Housing Act of 1964, it is prohibited to discriminate in the rent- al, sale, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin and sex. In 1988, additional protections were established to protect against discrimination based on disability or familial status, including the presence of a child under the age of 18 years as well as pregnant women.
Mrs. Hudson contacted the Austin Tenants Council, Fair Housing Program and spoke to Fair Housing Specialist Lucia Salinas. Lucia listened to the Hudson’s story and immediately be- gan assisting Mrs. Hudson in ling an administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Many tenants in Austin are experiencing an all-too-common experience: they find themselves in a market in which property values continue to rise along with their rent, while their housing conditions are not diligently attended. In such an environment, it is not uncommon for tenants to finds themselves dealing with emergency repairs that affect their health and safety.
In acknowledging these issues, we may better appreciate the work of ATC’s fair housing department. At a time of unprecedented population growth and wealth disparity in Austin, the principles for which the Fair Housing Act stands, now, more than ever, need a vigilant defense. The times demand it. National events of late reinforce, among staff, the fact that their work is not just locally significant but that it stands in sharp contrast to a cynical national message that seems to minimize the historic disadvantages of marginalized communities everywhere. “I come to work everyday feeling strongly that my work has a new sense of urgency. The clients we’re serving need to know that we show up everyday ready to hear their stories and defend their rights. Right now, it just feels like our mission is urgent,” explains Lucy Salinas, ATC Fair Housing Specialist.
ATC’s fair housing work is based in a city that is no stranger to discrimination, inequality (both economic and racial) and systemic racism. As early as 1929, the City of Austin commissioned a comprehensive “Master Plan” by the firm Koch & Fowler, Consulting Engineers, which was explicitly racist in its vision and design. The plan proposed a policy solution to their so-named “race segregation problem” by establishing a “negro district” in east Austin replete, with all of the “facilities and conveniences” necessary to “draw the negro to this area.” Today, such a plan should shock the conscience of any rational citizen but, in the context of the times, Austin was like many other American cities in the new century seeking to institutionalize racist policies for the benefit of a white majority.
The Fair Housing Act establishes the legal foundation from which organizations such as Austin Tenants Council fight for safe, decent, and fair on a daily basis. Since 1973 ATC has fought for Texans statewide to enforce the historic mandate enshrined in the federal and state Fair Housing Acts. ATC’s fair housing specialists diligently strive to ensure that anyone experiencing discrimination related to housing understands their rights and how to enforce them.
April is Fair Housing Month. It’s been fifty years since the signing of the Fair Housing Act. It’s also been fifty years since the tragic assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an act that may well have proved the deciding factor in moving the congressional debate forward towards passage of the Civil Rights legislation. We should remember not merely that April is set aside to recall the passage of truly monumental legislation but that, exemplified in the living example of Dr. King and so many before us, a still-necessary fight exists for fundamental fairness in our daily lives.