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Landlord misinterpretation prompts proposed amendment to help displaced renters

Thursday, April 21, 2022 by Emma Freer

District 4 Council Member Chito Vela’s staff recently learned that renters in his Northeast Austin district were denied protections afforded to them under the Tenant Relocation Ordinance. Passed in 2016, the law established notification requirements for anyone seeking demolition permits, and in some cases, relocation assistance requirements for displaced tenants. 

“There is no question about whether tenants in this case are covered, but because the language was twisted in the way that it was, they had to reach out (to the city) for clarification,” a spokesperson in Vela’s office said. 

As a result of this case, and others across the city since the ordinance took effect, Vela has sponsored an amendment to the ordinance. If approved, the amendment would clarify the ordinance’s applicability to renters who are permanently displaced not only by demolition but also by remodeling, renovation and repairs. It would also declare an emergency, given the number of “Austin residents at risk or already in the process of losing housing,” according to draft language

City Council will consider the proposal at its Thursday meeting.

In a Monday post to the City Council Message Board, Vela wrote that the amendment would not substantively change the ordinance – no additional renters would be covered by it, for example – but instead clarify it to fulfill its original intent. 

The complaint process can be overly burdensome for renters who are protected by the ordinance but lack its cover due to their landlords’ interpretation of the law. 

“A lot of tenants who are affected by this are tenants who live in lower-income communities, who make much smaller incomes and who are often not native English speakers,” Vela’s spokesperson explained. “That leads to a massive uphill battle for them when it comes to making any kind of legal challenge.” 

Many renters don’t have the capacity to fight back, she added, leaving them at risk of displacement. 

This scenario is familiar to many renters in Austin’s red-hot housing market, where seemingly endless demand for homes outpaces supply, turning older apartment buildings into viable tear-down development opportunities. 

The average monthly rent in the greater Austin area rose to $1,602 in April, up nearly 22 percent year-over-year and outpacing growth in the Houston, San Antonio and Dallas-Fort Worth metros, according to the latest market report from 

The ongoing housing crisis warrants an emergency declaration, according to the draft language. 

“Often, if someone is provided with 30 days’ notice in order to exit their lease, they can’t find apartments in that time frame,” the spokesperson said. “And so people are becoming … unhoused because 30 days is not sufficient, especially without the relocation assistance.”

The original ordinance requires anyone seeking demolition permits to provide 120 days’ notice to renters of multifamily buildings with 12 or more units, and 270 days notice to residents of mobile home parks when applying for rezoning, change of use or site-plan approvals.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license

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