Council considers new protections for tenants

Friday, February 4, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

City council on Thursday passed two resolutions aimed at protecting tenants from eviction and giving them more rights to organize.

“With the escalating housing costs we are seeing and the daily emergencies we know so many families face, it is clear to me that we need permanent protections for tenants,” said Greg Casar, member of the Council, which sponsored the resolutions.

The first one resolutionadopted unanimously, proposes to give tenants more time to pay late rent or fix lease violations before being evicted. The municipal law change would give tenants a grace period lasting between seven and 30 days instead of the current three-day grace period provided by Texas state law.

“We’ve seen how just one missed paycheck, or just losing your job, or a family member’s medical emergency can set you back,” Casar said at a press conference Wednesday that he co-hosted with Board members Vanessa Fuentes and Kathie. Tovo, tenant rights group BASTA and homelessness group ECHO.

Casar also noted how eviction can lead to homelessness.

The resolution initiates conversations between tenants, landlords and officials to decide exactly how long the grace period will last. After these talks, the Council will vote on the adoption of the ordinance. Some small landlords who convened the meeting on Thursday expressed concern over the proposed change, fearing it would allow people to live rent-free for extended periods. Landlords said that due to eviction moratoriums during Covid, some tenants have not paid rent for many months. Most of those who spoke at the meeting supported the proposed protections for tenants.

The other resolutionwhich was also adopted unanimously, aims to enshrine in the city code additional rights for tenants, in particular the right to organize so that neighbors have more power in disputes with landlords.

According to a report from the University of Texas, “Texas offers very few protections for organizing activities, which makes it much more difficult to successfully create and manage tenant associations.” For example, landlords can retaliate against tenants after six months of organizing activity by raising rents or refusing to renew leases.

The resolution calls for the adoption of all or part of a draft order presented in the UT report. The order would include protections against landlord retaliation as well as the right to assemble on the property and distribute literature. Council will consider the order at its July 28 meeting.

At the press conference, tenants described the difficulty of organizing without much legal protection. Jeanne Luttrall, a member of the Arbors at Creekside Residents Association, said property management tried to stop the organization by stopping meetings being held on the property. “The management lied to us, they treated us like children and we had no voice,” she said. Due in part to organizing by tenants, a more supportive landlord took over the property.

Casar and others at the press conference said they even heard of landlords calling the police about residents organizing or reporting maintenance issues.

“People shouldn’t get called by the police, or worry about their lease being canceled, or an eviction being filed against them just because they get together to ask for improvements to their homes or a drop in prices. rents,” he said. Pushing for tenant protection is Casar’s last major action on the Council before he leaves to run for Congress.

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