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Council eyes new protections for renters

Friday, February 4, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

City Council passed two resolutions Thursday aimed at protecting renters from eviction and granting them more organizing rights. 

“With the escalating housing costs that we see and with the daily emergencies that we know so many families face, it’s clear to me that we need permanent renter protections,” said Council Member Greg Casar, who sponsored the resolutions.

The first resolution, which passed unanimously, proposes giving tenants more time to pay late rent or correct lease violations before facing eviction. The change to city law would give renters a grace period lasting between seven and 30 days instead of the current three-day grace period under Texas state law.

“We’ve seen how just one missed paycheck, or just losing your job, or the medical emergency of a family member can put you behind,” Casar said at a press conference Wednesday that he co-hosted with Council members Vanessa Fuentes and Kathie Tovo, tenants’ rights group BASTA, and homelessness advocacy group ECHO.

Casar also noted how eviction can lead to homelessness.

The resolution tees up conversations among renters, landlords and public officials to decide exactly how long the grace period will be. After those talks, Council will vote on adopting the ordinance. Some small landlords who called in to the meeting Thursday expressed concern over the proposed change, fearing it would allow people to live rent-free for extended periods. The landlords said that because of eviction moratoriums during Covid, some tenants have not paid rent in many months. Most people who spoke at the meeting supported the proposed renter protections.

The other resolution, which also passed unanimously, aims to enshrine in city code additional rights for renters, particularly the right to organize so that neighbors have more power in disputes with landlords.

According to a report from the University of Texas, “Texas provides very few protections for organizing activities, making it much harder to successfully form and operate tenants’ associations.” For example, landlords can retaliate against tenants after six months of organizing activity by raising rents or refusing to renew leases.

The resolution calls for adopting some or all of a draft ordinance outlined in the UT report. The ordinance would include protections against landlord retaliation as well as the right to meet on the property and distribute literature. Council will consider the ordinance at its July 28 meeting. 

At the press conference, renters described the struggle of organizing without much legal protection. Jeanne Luttrall, a member of the Arbors at Creekside Residents Association, said that the property’s management tried to prevent organizing by stopping meetings held on the property. “The management lied to us, they treated us like children and we had no voice,” she said. Due in part to organizing by tenants, a more supportive landlord has taken over the property.

Casar and others at the press conference said that they had even heard of landlords calling the police on residents who were organizing or reporting maintenance issues.

“People shouldn’t have the police called on them, or be worried that their lease is going to be canceled, or have an eviction filed against them just because they’re coming together to petition for improvements to their housing or lower rents,” he said. The push for renter protections is Casar’s last major action on Council before he leaves to run for Congress. 

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