Letter to the editor: Renters’ rights aren’t so bad


illustration by Julia Poage, staff illustrator

To professor Christine Drennon, director of the urban studies department, and Bobby Watson, Trinitonian reporter.

This is to provide a response to some of the representations in the April 14 Trinitonian article, “What to expect when you’re expecting to live in San Antonio post-graduation.” I’m an independent residential rental property owner of houses and duplexes in San Antonio, as well as a Trinity alumnus (1976).

While there’s general consensus about the serious lack of affordable housing in many parts of the U.S. including San Antonio, I believe the broad assertion that “renters essentially have no rights in any dispute with a landlord” is highly inaccurate. Below I offer some links and citations that support this. I’m aware of Dr. Drennon’s as well as local rental industry representatives’ participation in the mayor’s Housing Policy Task Force, which provides a worthwhile focus addressing local affordable housing issues.

While it’s true that most qualified observers rank Texas as among the most landlord friendly states, there is nonetheless a wealth of protections for renters who do their due diligence in learning their legal rights and asserting them when necessary. This diligence often entails what renters — and prospective renters — do before signing a lease or rental contract.

It should also be noted that the Texas Property Code chapter 92 provides an implied warranty of habitability for residential rental property without respect to lease language, and negligent rental owners can be and often are held accountable within the court systems, as well as by code enforcement authorities. It is true that much of the statutory “repair, remedy and deduct” protections for renters are generally limited to those matters that materially affect health and safety; hence, the importance of renters ensuring reasonableness and acceptability of all lease provisions — or omissions — that fall outside health and safety assurance.

With regard to Dr. Drennon’s comment about “Say something is broken in your apartment, and you fix it ’cause your landlord won’t fix it … Well, no, now you’re in violation, and you’re evicted. You have no rights in that case.” This is inaccurate as a categorical statement, and will depend heavily on the lease/rental document, as well as the rental operator. Common leases such as those provided by TAA and TAR generally spell out repair responsibilities clearly, while it’s admittedly all over the map with other leases and agreements. It’s my experience that most rental operators are responsible and won’t jeopardize a good relationship with a good renter over repair issues that aren’t due to property abuse or negligence by the renter. It’s simply bad business practice to incur an average cost of close to $3,000 — repairs and lost rent combined — that happens when good tenants leave avoidably.

Good rental/lease agreements clearly lay out who is responsible for what repairs, and under what conditions. A well-advised prospective renter should avoid renting when those matters are not spelled out well or aren’t fairly constructed. There are also restrictions in the Texas Property Code concerning fine print in rental documents, and there are some explicit statutory requirements that certain key lease provisions be prominent and/or in bold print. Texas generally allows wide latitude in what can be included in lease/rental contracts, provided it’s not discriminatory or otherwise illegal. All the more reason for prospective Texas renters to become well educated in this area.

And yes, I believe all adults — even young ones — have considerable personal responsibility for researching their rights and responsibilities before embarking on their first, as well as any subsequent rental ventures. There is no shortage of credible websites and organizations that can and do help with this. Certainly, renting post-graduation should be a key part of pre-graduation prep modules, and I imagine there’s room for improvement in this area at some campuses. Hopefully, a good summary rental guide/checklist is provided at Trinity and most other local campuses to students who intend to rent and all those who are soon to graduate.