Texas renters who live in unsafe conditions have legal recourse against landlords who do not maintain their property as in habitable condition; they have several options for filing complaints. Anyone who suspects that a child, an elderly person or a disabled person is living in such conditions must report the situation to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
Implied Warranty of Habitability in Texas
According to the implied warranty of habitability of rental units – a law at the state level – landlords must keep their properties livable for tenants. Landlords often include its details in residential leases. In Texas, landlords must:
- Keep the structural elements of the rental property intact and safe, including floors, stairs, roofs and walls.
- Maintain the property's common areas so that they are safe and clean.
- Keep electrical, heating, plumbing, ventilation and air-conditioning systems working properly.
- Keep elevators working and in safe operation.
- Supply both hot and cold running water in reasonable amounts.
- Supply heat in proper amounts.
- Keep environmental hazards from posing a danger to the inhabitants.
- Take appropriate measures to prevent potential criminal intrusions.
- Exterminate vermin, including rodents.
To use the implied warranty of habitability, the tenant must notify their landlord of the issue and be current with rent payments when they give the landlord notice of the problem. The issue must either affect the tenant's physical health or safety or develop from the landlord's failure to supply the tenant with water that is at least 120 degrees F.
The landlord or property manager has seven days to repair the issues or explain why they cannot, but this time may be shorter if the problem in the living space is severe enough.
Reporting Neglect in Texas
According to state law, if someone has reasonable cause to believe that a child, a disabled person or a person over 65 is suffering neglect or health risks from unsafe living conditions, they must report it to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). The person who reports the abuse is immune from criminal or civil liability. DFPS keeps confidential the name of the individual who files the report. Victims may get short-term help in various ways, including food, home repairs, shelter, transportation, medical care, home healthcare or mental health services.
Concerned citizens can contact the DFPS through its 24/7 toll-free complaint line at 800-252-5400 or online through its website. If the situation is urgent, and there is an immediate risk of abuse or neglect that may result in severe harm or death, the DFPS asks people to call Texas Abuse Hotline at 800-252-5400.
Filing a Complaint With Texas Workforce Commission
The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC ) enforces the Fair Housing Act in the Lone Star State. Tenants have up to a year to file a housing complaint against a landlord for unsafe or unlivable housing. They can do this online, through email, hand delivery or mail to the Civil Rights Division of the TWC, 1117 Trinity Street, Room 144-T, Austin, TX 78701. The agency's phone number is 888-452-4778 or 512-463-2642. Its email address is: HousingComplaint@twc.state.tx.us.
When filing a complaint, the tenant must include:
- Name and address.
- Name and address of the complaint respondent (landlord).
- Address of the property.
- Brief description of the alleged violation, including dates of occurrence.
Filing a Complaint with HUD
A tenant living in unsafe conditions can also file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) if they live in a federally subsidized property. They can do this by using the agency's complaint form or by email. They can also contact HUD through one of its regional offices, Monday through Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.:
- Fort Worth: 307 W. 7th St., Suite 1000, Fort Worth, TX 76102. Phone: 817-978-5600, email: TX_Webmanager@hud.gov.
- Houston: 1301 Fannin St., Suite 2200, Houston, TX 77002. Phone: 713-718-3199, email: TX_Webmanager@hud.gov.
- San Antonio: 615 East Houston St., Suite 347, San Antonio, TX 78205-2001. Phone: 210-475-6800 email: TX_Webmanager@hud.gov
By reporting unsafe living conditions, tenants forced to live in substandard housing can draw attention to unscrupulous landlords. HUD has often barred landlords from working with the federal government or fined them as a result of these complaints.
- HUD: HUD Form 903 Online Complaint
- Texas Department of Family and Protective Services: Welcome to the Texas Abuse Hotline Website
- NOLO: Tenant Rights to a Livable Place
- HUD: CONTACT HUD: TEXAS
- NOLO: Top 9 Landlord Legal Responsibilities in Texas
- Find Law: What is the Implied Warranty of Habitability?
- Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs: How to File a Fair Housing Complaint
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.