What to do if your landlord or complex shuts off the water from freezing without requiring an emergency or repair

Are properties breaking the law by shutting off tenants’ water for extended periods without an emergency or requiring no repairs?

AUSTIN, Texas — In the wake of Winter Storm Uri in 2021, landlords and property managers faced with frozen or burst pipes and disconnected utility lines were looking for ways to prevent this from happening again in their properties.

The same is true with cold temperatures expected and hard frost expected this week. Tenant rights groups, however, want to remind tenants that it’s against the law for landlords to interrupt utilities unless it’s an emergency or genuine repairs.

People living in an apartment complex west of the University of Texas on the Austin campus have been told they will not have running water during the dangerously cold weather.

Temperatures in central Texas drop below freezing, with even colder wind showers. Wind speeds of 30 to 40 miles per hour are expected.

KVUE first saw the warning signs of Pioneer Becka real estate management group that operates an apartment complex and condominiums called Croix, on social media. The notice said the property will shut off water for the entire community at 3 p.m. Thursday and will not be restored until after 9 a.m. Monday.

KVUE reached out to Pioneer Beck to ask what guidelines it was following that led to the decision to keep the water out for an extended period of time – ahead of the expected arrival of the cold snap and after temperatures have risen above freezing. We did not get an answer.

According to the Austin Tenants Council:

“A landlord can turn off all utilities (electricity, water, sewage and gas) to carry out repairs or construction work or in an emergency. A landlord must never turn off electricity, water, sewage, or gas because the tenant is in arrears with a rent or payment of utility services. Any provision of a lease that purports to waive any right, liability, or duty of the tenant under the Utility Disconnection Act is void.”

Texas State Property Code Section 92.008 repeats this and continues:

“(f) If a Landlord or a Landlord representative violates this section, the Renter may:

“(1) either repossess the premises or terminate the lease; and

“(2) in addition to any other remedies available at law, recover from Owner an amount equal to Renter’s actual damages, one month’s rent plus $1,000, reasonable attorneys’ fees and court costs, less any arrears in rent or other amounts for which Renter is liable to Owner .”

Without emergency repairs nearby or on the properties, and without a weather emergency declared by the state prior to the Arctic blast, would properties break the law by shutting off tenant water for an extended period of time?

The group, Development and strengthening of the tenant campaign or BASTAsaid renters should document everything.

“The landlord shouldn’t turn off the water like that,” said BASTA’s Mincho Jacob. “If you find yourself in this situation, call 311. Let the operator know you want to file a code complaint.”

Jacob said that’s the best way to connect that City of Austin Code Department.

“[City of Austin’s] Code will send an inspector if your water is shut off because it’s not an emergency,” Jacob said.

BASTA said a landlord or property management group trying to avoid a pipe rupture in a freezing situation doesn’t qualify as an emergency.

Jacob noted that if a property says it can turn off the water but hasn’t done so, no action can be taken.

KVUE asked the city code department if properties could turn off water for multiple days at a time, such as B. Croix, or whether this varies by situation.

The Austin City Code Department told KVUE:

“In anticipation of the colder temperatures to come, we recognize that property representatives may wish to take steps to reduce the likelihood of water mains bursting. including shutting off the water. We encourage the public to follow Austin Water’s recommendations for prevention. Regardless of weather conditions, when shutting off the water, the property representative must notify residents of their intention and, if the property is occupied, provide alternate access to water resources and methods of heating that water.”

BASTA said it is working with the city code department to call landlords and tell them they risk receiving a violation if they turn off the tenant’s water without a current emergency or repairs being made.

For BASTA’s Utility Shutoff Tool Kit or to report that your landlord or property management company has shut off your water and it was not due to an emergency or repair, click here.

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https://www.kvue.com/article/news/local/water-shutoff-freeze/269-d1efd641-54d2-45b6-8a19-eccb9c544bc1 What to do if your landlord or complex shuts off the water from freezing without requiring an emergency or repair

Laura Coffey

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