We are often asked whether the law requires landlords to make repairs. People want to know what their rights are when their apartment has mold, pests, broken appliances, or other problems. Texas law states that a landlord must make a diligent effort to repair a problem if it "materially affects the physical health or safety of an ordinary tenant." The Texas Young Lawyers Association has produced a Tenants’ Rights Handbook [PDF] that explains what this phrase might mean on page 11:
Examples of items that materially affect the health and safety of an ordinary tenant are sewage backups, roaches, rats, no hot water, faulty wiring, roof leaks, and, sometimes, a lack of heat or air conditioning. If the problem violates a provision of your city’s building, health, or fire code, then it is more likely to be considered a health or safety risk.
Under Section 92.052 of the Texas Property Code, a few requirements must be met before the landlord is required to make the repair:
Section 92.056 of the Texas Property Code requires a tenant to take several steps before the landlord is considered to be liable to them. A landlord's liability allows a tenant to to take certain actions like ending the lease or deducting the cost of repairs from the rent. The following steps must be followed before the tenant can take any of those actions:
The repair process can be fast-tracked by sending the initial notice "by certified mail, return receipt requested, by registered mail, or by another form of mail that allows tracking of delivery from the United States Postal Service or private delivery service." If the tenant does this, a second notice is not required.
Some tenants fear that their landlord will punish them if they complain about problems with their apartment. This kind of punishment is called "retaliation." Section 92.331 of the Texas Property Code describes unlawful landlord retaliation, noting:
A landlord may not retaliate against a tenant by taking an action described by Subsection (b) because the tenant:(1) in good faith exercises or attempts to exercise against a landlord a right or remedy granted to the tenant by lease, municipal ordinance, or federal or state statute;(2) gives a landlord a notice to repair or exercise a remedy under this chapter;(3) complains to a governmental entity responsible for enforcing building or housing codes, a public utility, or a civic or nonprofit agency, and the tenant:(A) claims a building or housing code violation or utility problem; and(B) believes in good faith that the complaint is valid and that the violation or problem occurred; or(4) establishes, attempts to establish, or participates in a tenant organization.
Under this law, a landlord may not retaliate by:
Section 92.333 goes on to describe what remedies a tenant may pursue, including, "a civil penalty of one month's rent plus $500, actual damages, court costs, and reasonable attorney's fees in an action for recovery of property damages, moving costs, actual expenses, civil penalties, or declaratory or injunctive relief, less any delinquent rents or other sums for which the tenant is liable to the landlord."