Renting after Harvey: What you need to know to protect yourself

A destroyed apartment complex is seen after Hurricane Harvey passed through on August 26, 2017 in Rockport, Texas. Harvey made landfall shortly after 11 p.m. Friday, just north of Port Aransas as a Category 4 storm and is being reported as the strongest hurricane to hit the United States since Wilma in 2005. Forecasts call for as much as 30 inches of rain to fall in the next few days. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

HOUSTON – The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates some 30,000 Houston-area apartments were impacted in some way by Hurricane Harvey. Many renters forced out are now wondering when they can go back. And what happens with their lease if their apartment is not livable?

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PHOTOS: Harvey damage, flooding

The Texas Property Code covers disasters like this so landlords and tenants know what to expect.
It says if the premises are totally unusable, either the landlord or tenant may terminate the lease. To do that you just have to give written notice any time before repairs are completed.

It gets complicated is if your unit is partially unusable. If you flooded, but the water has now receded, you might have sheetrock damage, but that may not be considered unlivable.

You need plumbing, hot water and safe conditions. If you have those things, the law does not entitle you to break your lease. 

You are entitled to a reduction of your rent if a portion of your apartment home is not usable. For example, if you are paying for a 2-bedroom unit and one bedroom is ruined and needs repairs, a judge may rule that you only have to pay for the space that is usable. You will have to go to a county court if your landlord is not willing to agree to the reduction in rent.

The Texas Property Code gives landlords a "reasonable time" to make repairs; but in a disaster like Hurricane Harvey the clock for the reasonable amount of time for repairs does not start until the landlord receives the insurance proceeds to make the repairs.

If you lost personal belongings like furniture and clothing inside your apartment or rental home when it flooded, the landlord is not liable. You may receive some compensation if you have renter's insurance; but renter's insurance does not typically cover flood damage. You need separate flood insurance for those claims. Davis found one insurer, USAA that covers flood damage on its renters’ insurance policies. A USAA representative told Davis it’s not something most policies cover and that USAA is unique in offering that protection. 

Houston Apartment Association representative Andy Teas told Channel 2 as soon as HAA employees can get in to work, they will begin matching up displaced tenants with available units. Teas said there are fewer vacant apartments in Houston now than there were back in 2005 when our city helped so many victims of Katrina.

If you know you are going to need an apartment or some place to live while your home is being repaired, find an apartment locator service now. Most do not charge you to find an apartment for you. They make their money from the complexes.

The following are some companies that will help you find an apartment for free:

Apartment Directions

Apartment World

Below is the section of the Texas Property Code that applies in this situation:

Sec. 92.054.  CASUALTY LOSS.  (a)  If a condition results from an insured casualty loss, such as fire, smoke, hail, explosion, or a similar cause, the period for repair does not begin until the landlord receives the insurance proceeds.
(b)  If after a casualty loss the rental premises are as a practical matter totally unusable for residential purposes and if the casualty loss is not caused by the negligence or fault of the tenant, a member of the tenant's family, or a guest or invitee of the tenant, either the landlord or the tenant may terminate the lease by giving written notice to the other any time before repairs are completed.  If the lease is terminated, the tenant is entitled only to a pro rata refund of rent from the date the tenant moves out and to a refund of any security deposit otherwise required by law.
(c)  If after a casualty loss the rental premises are partially unusable for residential purposes and if the casualty loss is not caused by the negligence or fault of the tenant, a member of the tenant's family, or a guest or invitee of the tenant, the tenant is entitled to reduction in the rent in an amount proportionate to the extent the premises are unusable because of the casualty, but only on judgment of a county or district court.  A landlord and tenant may agree otherwise in a written lease.

About the Author:

Passionate consumer advocate, mom of 3, addicted to coffee, hairspray and pastries.