The unfortunate reality for tenants in Texas is that they are afforded very few protections. In fact, more bills have passed in recent legislative sessions that take away rights than bills that advance the rights of renters. In 2021, however, there has been a movement among some legislators to provide tenants basic consumer rights that are the status quo in most other states. Two bills in particular heard in the Business and Industry committee are great examples of legislation that offer essential protections for tenants.
Texas House Bill 3882 by Rep. Ray Lopez (D-San Antonio) proposes it is a landlord’s duty to inspect for and treat bedbugs in residential rental units. Under current Texas housing provisions, the onus of responsibility to find and treat bed bugs is on the tenant, instead of the landlord. It is up to the tenant to look for and prove the presence of bed bugs before signing a lease. This can be difficult if there is no furniture present in the unit to search, a limited time for a thorough inspection, and a lack of knowledge on how to spot and find bedbug presence. Thus, if bedbugs are found after moving in, it becomes the responsibility of the tenant to take care of this issue with their own finances or they may face penalties.
HB 3382 protects tenants’ rights by putting the responsibility and expense of inspecting and treating bed bugs on the landlord. This is valid during a renter’s lease term or during a renewal or extension. Additionally, this responsibility and protection of the tenant must be included in the lease agreement that is signed by a tenant so they are aware of their right. HB 3382 was heard on April 20, 2021 in the Business and Industry Committee where testimony was taken and left pending in committee.
Representative Lopez, author of HB 3882, explained bed bugs can hide in headboards, mattress seams, cracks on the floor, under refrigerators and other small crevices around a rental unit. These pests are very difficult to spot to the naked eye and can live dormant for several months without becoming present in a home.
David Wheaton, Advocacy Director for Texas Housers, explained in his testimony that HB 3882 allows for more communication between a landlord and a tenant about the presence and treatment of bedbugs. It gives tenants more transparency in the rental process, and can save tenants time and money as well as mental and physical health. Sandy Rollins, Executive Director of the Texas Tenants Union, described in her testimony that some current lease agreements have bed bug addendums that place the burden of responsibility on tenants if bedbugs are found in a rental unit. She stated a Texas A&M Entomologist said bedbugs can’t be seen by a naked eye in an empty unit, thus it is almost impossible for potential renters to spot bedbugs prior to move-in. Moreover, requiring landlords to tell tenants about the presence of bedbugs and when last inspections were made isn’t much to ask from them. Lastly, if this issue isn’t addressed early it can spread easily to other tenants, especially if there are shared community spaces like laundry rooms, pools, public transportation and so on.
Another bill this session that offers tenant protections is Texas House Bill 2617, also from Rep. Lopez and Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-Dallas), which protects tenants from charges made after moving out if deductions exceed the security deposit amount. The bill proposes at the request of a tenant, a landlord is required to give the tenant a written itemized list of deductions and receipts of all expenses by the landlord, including material and labor, when deductions for repairs exceed the security deposit amount. Moreover, the bill extends the 30 day period to 60 days for tenants to dispute or pay these charges before they are reported to credit bureaus.
Representative Lopez, co-author of the bill, offered testimony for HB 2617 and stated there are several cases in which landlords charge deductions more than the security deposit for repairs that aren’t a result of normal wear and tear, then tenants aren’t given enough time to cure the issue and only 30 days to pay before it is reported to credit bureaus. Through HB 2617, tenants would be able to ask landlords to provide receipts detailing the exact amounts of charges for fixes and damage caused to the unit so tenants can understand charges. Some landlords already have this practice in place, but this bill makes it a standard for landlords across the state.
David Wheaton explained in his testimony that the availability of detailed accounts of funds helps reduce fraud and abusive practices from landlords. In her prepared statement, Sandy Rollins noted many tenants can’t get approved for an apartment due to these charges, and some even end up homeless as a result. Oftentimes, tenants don’t know where the information is being reported and this bill would show renters where their debts are being reported and give a longer period to cure before charges are reported. HB 2617 was heard in the Business & Industry Committee on April 20, 2021 and left pending.
The 87th legislative session is wrapping up leaving some housing bills dead in committee or unable to even get a hearing. Still, proposed housing legislation and the introduction of tenant protections have provided the groundwork for the next legislative session. Texas does not have strong protections for renters that are often standard in most other states in this country — at least not yet. However, HB 3882 and HB 2617 are two bills this 87th legislative session that protect tenants’ rights to live safely in their homes and balance the skewed power dynamic favoring the landlord in their relationship with a tenant. These bills are the beginning of tenant protections in Texas, and they are essential in the continued struggle for tenants’ rights.