By Ryan Velez
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the Houston area and Southeast Texas are currently in the beginning of a potential housing crisis, with more than 180,000 houses in the Houston area have been badly damaged, with only a fraction of occupants owning any flood insurance. The Guardian reports that due to Texas law, people may still be on the hook for rent on damaged dwellings.
The part of the Texas property code in question says that a rental premise is “totally unusable” due to an external disaster than either the landlord or tenant can terminate the lease through written notice. However, for partial damage, a tenant may only get a reduction in rent determined by a county or district court. Needless to say, this law wasn’t designed to handle a disaster of this type, let alone this magnitude.
“There are a lot of property owners who aren’t conscious of what has gone on; they are being rude and kicking people out,” said Isela Bezada, an unemployed woman who lived with 10 family members in a Houston house until her landlord took her to court to evict her after the hurricane hit. This is not a unique story. Rocio Fuentes, who is currently crammed into her sister’s apartment with her husband and 5 children, says that she is being expected to pay for her damaged home.
“Our landlords say we have to pay rent and late fees and every day it is going up,” Fuentes said. “We are paying rent for somewhere we can’t live in. They said ‘you aren’t the only ones in this situation’, but what are we supposed to do? We don’t have any money. We don’t have anything.”
A spokeswoman for the city of Houston’s housing department said city officials “are aware these problems exist” but said that state law deals with the situation. She said the city was still assessing the total number of people in need of housing assistance. This promises to stretch funds for disaster relief to the limit, with more than half a million people applying for FEMA help. Houston mayor Sylvester Turner, when asked what his priorities were, simply said, “housing, housing, housing.” Turner has asked Donald Trump for more federal help, but the expanded initiative only covers 35,000 dwellings. In addition, with FEMA stretched into many different areas, people may have to wait weeks or longer for assistance.