Renters rights: Housing issues in wake of Harvey as Houston recovers

By Bill Spencer - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - As Houston recovers from Hurricane Harvey, many residents are asking about their rights as renters.

One couple said their apartment was filled with six inches of water, which left black mold behind.

James Clark and his wife Lindsey have some serious questions about the apartment they are living in right now along with their 7-month-old daughter Miley.

Hurricane Harvey pumped six inches of flood water into their apartment home and now, they said, black mold is popping up everywhere, on the ceiling, on the air vents, inside cabinets and on the doors.

“My biggest fear is that the baby is going to have health problems from the mold. I mean, right now we are all breathing it in. It's in the air vents, so we sleep with the mold blowing on us all night,” Lindsey said, shaking her head and holding her baby tight.

“I have a constant headache, it’s horrible,” Randy Pouncy said.

The family lives one floor up in the same apartment complex, is paying $700 a month and is also living in fear of the mold he says is growing worse every day.

“I want to actually know if my landlord is actually fixing things, does he have to do it … does he have a heart, does he see the conditions we are living in?” Randy Pouncy said.

It’s a question that tens of thousands of Houston apartment renters want answered: Does my apartment complex have to fix the flood damage to my apartment?

Brian Zimmerman, a board certified civil trial lawyer, has the answer.

“Yes, a landlord is required, if the safety and welfare of the tenant is being affected, he has to clean up the condition, the dangerous condition,” Zimmerman said.

Both James and Lindsey Clark want to vacate their apartment fast.

They don’t feel safe there with their young daughter.

Which brings us to the next question: Can my apartment complex penalize me for breaking my lease?

“It’s like this, If your health and safety are being affected by the conditions from the flooding in your apartment, the short answer is, yes, you can break your lease and not have to face any penalties or fines or fees,” Zimmerman said.

Finally, if repairs do have to be made at your apartment, does the landlord have the right to throw you out of your apartment while repairs are being made?

“If the landlord can make repairs to remediate the condition of the apartment to protect the tenant, the landlord must do so with the tenant in the unit. If they can’t repair the place with the tenant in the unit, then it is reasonable to require the tenant to leave,” Zimmerman said.

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