Most disagreements between residents and apartment managers occur because of misunderstandings about the obligations taken on by each party in the lease agreement. A lease agreement is a legal binding contract.
Preventing Disputes with Your Landlord
The best way to handle a dispute is to prevent one from arising! Landlord / tenant disputes often arise because the tenant or the landlord is not acting in accordance to the lease agreement. Tenants should study their lease agreement carefully as well as any community policies or rules. Tenants should also be familiar with their Tenant Rights, every U.S. state has Tenant Rights, in Texas you can review them on the Texas Attorney General's website. If both parties act in good faith to abide by the terms of the lease and state laws then most disputes can be totally avoided altogether. The best ways to avoid problems are to:
Read your lease agreement carefully so that you fully understand it. Abide to your end of the agreement.
Keep excellent records and put everything in writing, including agreements, notices and requests. Take pictures/videos of your evidence of any issues so that you have documentation.
Maintain a cordial relationship with the apartment staff.
Handling Unavoidable Disputes
Occasionally, a dispute will arise between the Landlord and the Tenant. It is important to handle the dispute in a civil and lawful manner. If the dispute arises because you are in violation of the lease then you need to remedy the situation as soon as possible to avoid eviction. For example, your apartment community has a no pet policy and you sneak in a dog then you are in violation of your lease. On the other hand, if the dispute arises because your landlord will not make a repair the landlord may be in violation of the lease agreement.
If you have requested a repair or maintenance and you have not had your issue resolved then simply set up a time to meet with the property manager, bring a copy of your lease agreement along with pictures or video of the issue - if it is a pest problem show them proof of roaches, mice droppings, and/or ants, etc. Even if you can't see the problem many times you can take a picture of proof of the issue, for example, your AC is not working properly you could take a picture of the thermostat showing it's 90 degrees in your apartment. (Tip: hold up a newspaper showing the date next to the issue you are taking a picture or video of - this could come in handy should you need to have the matter heard in court at a later date.) Also, bring a copy of your state's tenant rights to this meeting. Once you show this proof that the Landlord is the one violating the lease agreement - the landlord will likely resolve the issue at hand and fast! They will not want you to file a formal complaint with the Texas Attorney General, local health department or hire an attorney. By being prepared for this meeting you are proving you mean business, you have documentation and you are aware of your tenant rights.
No matter how frustrated you get it is best to approach the issue in a calm and professional manner. Getting angry and yelling at the leasing staff is not a good idea. Eventually, you will likely need to use this apartment community for a rental reference in the future so it is best to stay on good terms if possible.
What if the Landlord refuses to make repairs or remedy an issue?
It is unfortunate that not all landlord / tenant disputes can be settled by a simple conversation between both parties to the lease. Typically, you are dealing directly with an apartment manager that is acting on behalf of the actual landlord/owner. If you feel the landlord is in breech of the lease agreement and the apartment manager is NOT resolving the issue then it may be time to formally notify the landlord/owner. The person or entity that is ultimately responsible is the landlord - the person that owns the land. The manager is just an employee of the management company who is acting on behalf of the landlord. So the landlord is liable for anything the manager or the management company does. Ask the manager - by written request - who the owner is and their address. It is important to know that landlords have a duty to disclose this information in seven days upon a written request by posting the information in the office or responding to you in writing. The only exception to this duty is when the information is in your lease (so check this first). Tex. Prop. Code 92.201.
According to the Texas Attorney General's Tenants Rights Section:
If the landlord won't make repairs needed to protect your health, safety, or security, and you follow the procedures required by law, you may be entitled to:
End the lease;
Have the problem repaired and deduct the cost of the repair from the rent; or
File suit to force the landlord to make the repairs.
You MUST Follow These Steps:
1. Send the landlord (this is the actual owner of the dwelling you lease - get the address from the property manager) a dated letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, or by registered mail, outlining the needed repairs. You may also deliver the letter in person. Keep a copy of the letter. Be sure that your rent is current when the notice is received.
2. Your landlord should make a diligent effort to repair the problem within a reasonable time after receipt of the notice. The law presumes seven days to be a reasonable time, but the landlord can rebut this presumption. If the landlord has not made a diligent effort to complete the repair within seven days and you did not have the first notice letter delivered to your landlord via certified mail, return receipt requested, or via registered mail, you will need to send a second notice letter regarding the needed repairs by certified or registered mail.
3. If the landlord still has not made diligent efforts to repair the problem within a reasonable time after receipt of the notice letter sent by certified mail, return receipt requested or by registered mail, you may be entitled to terminate the lease, repair the problem and deduct the cost from your rent, or get a court to order that the repairs be made. You should consult with an attorney before taking any of these actions.
Unresolved Issues that Affect Your Health & Safety
If the issue at hand affects your health and safety and the apartment community will not remediate the problem or let you out of your lease. You can file a complaint with the local health department and the Texas Attorney General's office.
Here are some issues you can report:
Pests: A tenant may report a landlord if their apartment or rental property has shown signs of a mouse, rat, roach, bed bug, or other pest infestation.
Mold: Mold in the living space is dangerous as it can cause breathing problems or more severe reactions.
Lead: Lead paint is common in homes built before 1978. Lead hazards, such as chipping paint, can pose health risks, especially to young children.
Lack of Running Water, Electricity, or Heat: Tenants need to have access to certain vital services in their apartments. Tenants can report landlords if there is no running water in their apartment, if they do not have heat in the winter or A/C in the summer.
Structural Issues: If a roof leak is causing a ceiling to collapse or if the tenant has concerns about other structural issues at the property, the tenant can contact the health department.
Don't try to force the Landlord to make a repair or resolve an issue by withholding rent!
As tempting as it is to withhold rent UNTIL your landlord makes a repair or cures an issue, this will almost certainly work against you. In fact, your landlord may file an eviction against you! Keep your rent payment current even if you have a dispute. Follow the guidelines set forth (above) by the the Texas Attorney General and if you do this YOU will have the upper hand should the matter need to be heard in court.
Disclaimer & Resources
It is important to know we are not lawyers and this blog post is not intended as legal advice. State Laws frequently change. We recommend that you consult with an attorney that specializes in Landlord/Tenant Law should you have any issues with your landlord.
Below you will find some helpful links:
TexasTenant.org offers a generic Release of Lease Agreement form.
The Texas Young Lawyers Association & State Bar of Texas provides a Texas Tenants' Rights Handbook.
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