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With tenants still enduring mold damage caused by Uri, Council pushes for more landlord regulation

Thursday, May 6, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

Though it has been several months since Winter Storm Uri damaged infrastructure and homes across the city, some apartment residents are still dealing with severe mold damage that landlords have failed to fix. Worse, when some tenants asked the city for help, their landlords deemed the homes unlivable and forced the residents to leave.

“We’ve had some residents reach out saying that now they’re getting notices that they have to leave because the conditions are too bad after they’ve reported it to the (code department),” said Council Member Greg Casar, who brought forth a resolution this week to address the issue. “That’s just horrible, because people don’t have a place to go.”

Household mold is known to cause a number of health problems, including allergies and respiratory diseases. 

Casar’s resolution directs city staffers to report back to City Council with potential solutions, including adding new health and safety regulations, tenant protections and fines for landlords who are slow to make repairs. Council Member Alison Alter hoped to facilitate access to existing relief for mold remediation, such as FEMA disaster-relief funds. Council will vote on the resolution today. 

“No one should be trapped living in an apartment full of mold and collapsing ceilings,” Casar said in a statement. “We must push landlords to provide temporary housing, and to allow their tenants to get out of their leases without penalties.”   

Casar’s North Austin district experienced more code complaints related to Winter Storm Uri than any other district. “There is just such a concentration of older housing stock that hasn’t been kept up in District 4 in particular,” Casar said. 

The city currently has limited power to make sure mold repairs take place in a timely manner. According to the resolution, “renters often rely on city enforcement to get their landlords to address health and safety issues in their homes,” even though “no city department has explicit authority to regulate mold and address tenant complaints of mold in their homes.”

Casar showed several images at Council’s work session on Tuesday underscoring the extent of the mold damage in some apartments. 

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“Some of the conditions that I’ve seen still lately are just unthinkable,” he said.

“Many of the photos that you see aren’t a violation of city health or safety code in and of themselves,” Casar said. “Just mold itself isn’t a violation. Some of the underlying conditions are a violation, but that can be really hard to enforce.”

The city’s code department is working on a public dashboard to show which buildings have had complaints about code violations related to winter storm damage – both resolved and unresolved. The department hopes that the dashboard will help the public and Council determine which areas are suffering the most. 

Photos taken by residents, courtesy of Greg Casar. 

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