Repairs and Modifications: Austin Tenants Council Tips for Renters
Eviction & Other Landlord Issues
Here, learn about rental repair responsibilities in Texas. Typically, repairs are the landlord's responsibility. The landlord must respond to requests within seven days if the condition affects the health or safety of the tenant. Tenants may be able to take legal action if the request is refused. Tenants need landlords' permission in writing before making physical modifications approval, although there may be exceptions for disability-related modifications at a tenant's expense.
Special thanks to the Austin Tenants Council. Disclaimer: The contents of this article are produced in whole from the website of the Austin Tenants Council, which serves the Austin, Texas, area, but its website has useful information for all Texas residents.
Repairs and Modifications
Generally, it will be the landlord’s responsibility to make repairs to the rental unit. The exception is when the lease specifically states the tenant is responsible for maintenance, usually not to include repairs that affect health or safety. A tenant may also want to consider purchasing renter’s insurance in case there is any damage to the tenant’s or landlord’s property that is not covered under the lease.
Many landlords respond to a tenant’s request for repair quickly after the tenant simply stops by the office or calls on the telephone. Often these types of oral requests are all that is necessary. However, if a landlord refuses to make repairs, a tenant will have no recourse unless he can prove what was requested and when. In fact, most leases state that all requests for repair must be in writing. Therefore, repair requests should be in writing and either sent certified mail, return receipt requested or hand-delivered with a witness.
The Texas Property Code requires the landlord to repair any problems that are a threat to the health or safety of an ordinary tenant. If a tenant requests a repair, the landlord must respond within a reasonable amount of time, which is normally seven days. The tenant should request a written explanation from the landlord if there will be any delay in making the repair. The tenant may also inform the landlord of the tenant’s intention to exercise the remedies provided in Subchapter B of Chapter 92 of the Texas Property Code, if the repairs are not made in a reasonable time.
The tenant is required to send only one seven-day notice to the landlord requesting health or safety repairs, as long as that notice is sent by certified or registered mail, return receipt requested.
Repairs that Do Not Affect Tenant Health and Safety
Although not required by the Texas Property Code, the landlord is liable under the lease to repair other problems, unless the lease specifically says otherwise. These would be repairs that do not affect the health or safety of an ordinary tenant. For instance, if there is a dishwasher in the unit, the tenant can expect it to function properly unless the landlord specifically notified the tenant prior to signing the lease that it does not work or will not be repaired during the lease term.
When faced with repairs that do not affect health or safety, a tenant should make a written request for repair giving the landlord 10 days to make the repairs. Unfortunately, there are no specific remedies afforded to the tenant by the Texas Property Code so the tenant would have to take some type of civil action (i.e. sue) against the landlord for breach of the lease contract. Therefore, negotiation and repeated requests may be the most effective ways to counter a stubborn landlord.
Other conditions that the tenant encounters in the rental unit, such as old carpet or the walls needing to be painted are generally conditions that the tenant accepts “as is” and the landlord does not have to change them.
Because repair problems can vary widely, this discussion has been too brief to explain all the complexities of repair issues. Contact the Austin Tenants’ Council for more in-depth information on enforcing repair rights. See also ATC’s brochure, Repairs: The Tenant’s Rights and the Landlord’s Duty.
Physical modification of a rental property such as adding a ceiling fan or removing carpeting is generally not allowed without prior written approval from the landlord. A tenant can be liable to the landlord for damages by making any such changes to the property. Furthermore, physical modifications become part of the landlord’s property. New fixtures, plant shrubs, or other improvements cannot be taken when the tenant leaves unless the landlord gives written approval or the property is returned to its original condition. In general, consult the landlord and get a specific written agreement prior to making any changes to the rental unit.
There is one circumstance where the landlord is required by law to allow modification of the rental property. If physical modifications are necessary because of a tenant’s disability, the landlord may have to allow the tenant to make the modifications, although usually at the tenant’s expense.
People with disabilities also have the right to ask the landlord to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services if necessary for them to use the housing. For example, an apartment complex with a “no pets” policy must allow a visually impaired tenant to keep a guide dog.
If the landlord refuses a request for reasonable modification or reasonable accommodation, contact the Austin Tenants’ Council’s Fair Housing Program at 512-474-7007 for assistance.
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