Houston is one of the most important rental markets in the United States, with the third-highest number of apartments of any American city – but all isn’t well for the city’s tenants. In a recent study performed by the University of Texas School of Law, researchers determined that about 40% of Houston apartments were built between 1960 and 1979, a time period marked by lower safety standards. These conditions were made worse by Hurricane Harvey, which severely damaged about 43,000 units throughout the city. Taken together, a substantial portion of Houston’s apartment stock is in poor condition and may not be safe for their residents.
So, what do Houston’s apartment problems have to do with you? At Green Residential, we work with property owners every day to address their management needs, and we know that the vast majority of owners want the best for their tenants. What you may not realize, though, is that even if you’re making a good faith effort to maintain your properties, Houston’s Multi-Family Habitability Code is woefully incomplete and the city doesn’t inspect and certify properties the way that is should. That means that, in order to make sure your tenants are living in safe conditions, you may need to make an extra effort.
Tenant Rights, Your Responsibilities
One of the problems with Houston’s multi-family housing code is that it technically only covers properties with three or more units and that means that if you own single or two-family rental properties, you’re left without much guidance – and even the existing guidelines are lax. The National Center for Healthy Housing, on behalf of Healthy Housing Solutions, Inc., evaluated Houston’s multi-family housing code and compared it to the National Healthy Housing Standard (NHHS), as well as against the International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC). What they found was that Houston’s code covered only 40% of mandatory NHHS provisions. The code also uses broad language that fails to give property owners the information needed to really meet their tenants’ needs.
Without proper guidance from the city, property owners can find themselves in a tough spot, specifically when tenants assert their rights. According to the Texas Attorney General’s office, tenants’ rights include the right to “quiet enjoyment” – peace and quiet, safe and healthy living conditions and prompt repair of potential health hazards, and appropriate security on doors and windows. While these rights are also broadly stated, in combination with the lax housing code, it can be hard for landlords to determine what they’re legally obligated to do and what’s a normal but legally unimportant tenant complaint.
Evaluating Tenant Complaints
Tenants living in one of Houston’s hazardous apartment units have plenty to complain about, whether they’re suffering post-hurricane mold damage, bug infestations, lead paint, or other construction issues, and obviously landlords should promptly respond to these issues. Other complaints, however, can be harder to evaluate.
Noisy neighbors are one of the most common tenant complaints we deal with at Green Residential. While it’s true that this may fall under the heading of quiet enjoyment, it’s also important for tenants and landlords to be realistic. Apartment living comes with a certain amount of noise and if units have appropriate carpet cover to muffle sound and no one is throwing raging parties at odd hours, there may not be much you can do. Landlords and property managers should try to be responsive to such complaints – within reason. Acknowledge the complaint and look for ways to help tenants compromise on issues so that everyone feels like their needs are being considered.
Another common tenant complaint stems from appliance and plumbing problems, and while landlords are generally required to attend to these problems, there aren’t many rules regarding how long tenants should be expected to wait. Some landlords have policies about whether an appliance complaint is an emergency and will fine tenants for calling them about non-emergencies after office hours. Similarly, landlords who stall on repairs may be within their rights to perform them slowly, but it won’t endear them to their tenants.
Stand Out From The Crowd
With so many problems marking Houston’s rental landscape, it’s hard to know what’s required of you as a landlord, but it is easy to stand out as a leader in this crowded market. If you want your properties to be in high demand, then, the path is clear – be available and responsive, make repairs promptly, and emphasize your properties’ safety and maintenance. Consider using the NHHS framework as your guideline. Their recommendations are nationally recognized, highly detailed, and provide both standards and stretch provisions for owners who want to go above and beyond with their property maintenance.
Additionally, make a point of reaching out to the city for regular inspections. All multi-family apartments with three or more units are supposed to be inspected on a rotating basis, but many lack an up-to-date certificate of occupancy, according to the University of Texas School of Law assessment.
Another way to demonstrate your commitment to your tenants’ comfort and well-being is by making sure that your tenants are apprised of their rights. Too often, tenants encounter a problem with their residence, but they aren’t sure if they should – or even can – complain, and this is especially common after a disaster like Hurricane Harvey. When tenants move in, be sure to issue them a copy of their rights, including the appropriate methods of complaint and who to contact. They shouldn’t ever need to use this document if you’re doing your job correctly, but it’s best practice to provide it. You should also consider listing this information on your website.
Finally, and most importantly, Houston landlords that want to support their tenants should be accessible and build real connections – or, even better, partner with Green Residential for your property management needs. At Green Residential, we have decades of experience navigating Houston’s real estate market and we specialize in supporting the relationship between landlords and tenants. Contact us today to learn more about our services and how we can help you serve your tenants. In a city where more than half of residents rent their home, make your properties their first choice with Green Residential.