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Austin city leaders explain why apartment tenants are still waiting on damage repairs after Texas freeze

Austin city leaders explain why apartment tenants are still waiting on damage repairs after Texas freeze

May 28, 2021
Click here to view original web page at spectrumlocalnews.com

TEXAS — The number of code cases since the storm is now nearing 30,000, and that’s just a few cities in Texas reporting. Aftermath from the February freeze is also revealing inequities and shortcomings in the systems designed to help renters with unsafe living conditions. Barbara Salazar lost her […]

Click here to view original web page at spectrumlocalnews.com


TEXAS — The number of code cases since the storm is now nearing 30,000, and that’s just a few cities in Texas reporting.

Aftermath from the February freeze is also revealing inequities and shortcomings in the systems designed to help renters with unsafe living conditions.

Barbara Salazar lost her entire apartment to storm damage.

“All the doors, the laundry door fall down,” Salazar said. “It was coming, water from the top to the bottom and it got all flooded.”

She walks through her North Austin apartment complex to show us the damage.

“All the mold went from the laundry, to the living room too and the master rooms,” she said.

Her home is one of many at the property in need of major fixes. Her family was lucky enough to get another apartment in her complex, after complaining about the conditions, but most of her neighbors are still waiting.

For months, cases like Salazar’s have piled up while property owners make little progress, which tenants and housing advocates say the city isn’t doing enough to enforce.

Code Compliance Departments across the state saw an unprecedented spike in complaints since the February freeze. We saw firsthand how renters were left to live in hazardous conditions with little to no accommodations long after they called code.

So why are so many people still living with storm damages and who is holding property owners accountable?

Austin Code Department Director Jose Roig agreed to sit down with Spectrum News 1 and answer our questions about the fallout from the storm.

Reporter: “Do you think the Code Department failed?”

Roig: “I wouldn’t say fail, I think we are learning from this one, I think we’re going to be better prepared for next time.”

But could they have been better prepared? We asked Roig about the current laws in place and whether they are helping renters.

Reporter: “Texas is considered a landlord friendly state… is this what you would say gets in the way of you being able to act quicker when it comes to these issues being drawn out for months and months and not getting fixed?”

Roig: “It does get in the way, in that we have to, uh, we have to follow the law, right? So every time we find a violation we have to provide a due process, we have to provide time for them to actually repair.”

Because it was a natural disaster, under Texas law, inspectors had to give landlords more leeway to complete repairs. Roig says these cases are dealt with differently than violations resulting from neglect.

However, in our own research and reporting, we found the properties with worst damage and longest delays had problems before the storm, so the storm damage not only worsened those conditions, it covered up a history of failing infrastructure that has fallen through the cracks of code. A recent city report on storm damages in Austin found communities of color and poor neighborhoods had the largest number of code complaints.

Reporter: “A lot of people are just frustrated with why more isn’t being done. What do we do with these tenants who are living like this?”

Roig: “I fully understand the concerns and the challenges in the community and because of that there have been some resolutions from council to actually look at best practices and funding that is available and we are about to respond to those in a few months.”

That’s what brings us Austin’s Repeat Offender Program which was implemented to regulate properties failing to maintain safe living conditions and hold the owners accountable. However, a 2020 audit found Austin’s Repeat Offender Program was ineffective in enforcing and identifying properties with a history of violations.

Reporter: “Moving forward, how are you fixing that?”

Roig: “We actually identified many items that need to be improved… There may be some need for changes in the ordinance.”

Roig says they are following the recommendations of the audit and have already started testing out a new system that is helping the department find properties that qualify for ROP. However, when it comes to properties with mass amounts of storm damage complaints, because of the nature of those violations, those properties will not be considered repeat offenders.

Meanwhile, renters like Salazar have to wonder, if these failures had been fixed before the storm, would this disaster be as devastating.

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Texas

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