With Texas at the start of a budding housing shortage and rents rising fast, a Texas House Committee was told that some landlords are taking advantage of the situation by 'nickel and diming' tenants, sometime into years of debt, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
With the exception of federal housing and non-discrimination laws, landlords in Texas face few restrictions, especially compared to northern states, and Sandy Rollins of the Texas Tenants Union says the tight market means some landlords are out of control.
"We have a woman whose child was playing on the apartment playground outside her kitchen window, which she was watching from the kitchen, and she got a 'fine' of $400 for 'having an unsupervised child," Rollins said as she rattled off a long list of 'fines and fees' which are imposed, sometimes at whim, by landlords. "She was told that for a second offense, the fine would go up."
She says in cases like this, tenants have little recourse, especially with rising rents pricing many of them out of the market.
"There is a serious lack of affordable housing around this state," she said. "About half of the tenants in Texas are 'cost burdened,' meaning they pay almost thirty percent of their income in rent, and that means they are very vulnerable to eviction and homelessness."
Rollins talked of landlords who impose 'fines' for the most trivial of incidents, from making noise to walking in the wrong part of the complex.
She says tenants are frequently hit with fees for having guests in their apartments overnight, and the infamous 'apartment parking scam,' where tenants' cars, or the cars of visitors, are towed away for imagined 'parking violations' and then the tenant has to pay a massive fee to get their car back so they can go to work, is at an all-time high.
She said she knows of landlords who even charge tenants fees for providing the letter of recommendation they will need to get another apartment or to buy a home.
"This is causing real harm to people," she said. "This follow them, they get turned over to collections, it gets turned over to credit bureaus, it impacts their ability to rent another apartment or to someday buy a house, it can follow them for years."
She says the state should consider a more vigorous tenant protection law, especially with tenants more vulnerable than ever with rents and housing prices showing no signs of slowing.
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