Three weeks later, Haitham Nash still has no running water.
Three times a day, outside a Mediterranean grocery store in Katy, he finds time to pick up seven five-gallon jugs and look for the water his family needs to drink, clean, and flush the toilet. Three times a day he carries the five-gallon jugs filled with water back to his apartment in Villas del Paseo. His back has started to feel the strain.
Nash is one of hundreds of Houston renters still without water after a bitter winter storm in February left millions of Texans without electricity. Property managers face many of the same problems homeowners face: difficulty booking a plumber and lack of spare parts. As a result, many tenants who have left their homes – rushing with friends or family because they cannot cook, shower, do their laundry, or flush the toilet – think that landlords should give them concessions in recognition of uninhabitability. Some terminate their leases. Others organize rent strikes.
There is no official information on how many tenants across Houston still lack access to drinking water, as the city and the Houston Tenants’ Union are only aware of the apartment complexes that tenants turn to.
City Councilor Tiffany Thomas recommends contacting the Houston Harris County Winter Storm Relief Fund for information about the Houston Harris County Winter Storm Relief Fund.
Text HoustonFreeze to 898211 or HoustonAyuda to 898211 for Spanish. You can also share your needs with a number of nonprofits at www.connectivesurvey.org.
If your rental is in a condition that is affecting your physical health or safety and your landlord isn’t making repairs, you may be able to terminate your lease, said Meghan Smolensky, an attorney for the nonprofit Lone Star Legal Aid, which offers free legal aid to Texans with help low income.
Send your landlord a letter stating the condition and the requested repairs by registered mail with the requested acknowledgment of receipt. If you are up to date and the landlord has not tried to resolve the situation within a reasonable period – usually seven days after receiving the letter – you can terminate the lease. Withholding the rent could put you at risk of eviction and damage your creditworthiness, Smolensky said.
Councilor Tiffany Thomas, chair of the housing and community affairs committee, said she delivered water to five complexes over the past week where at least some units are still having water turned off. But complexes without water, such as Villas del Paseo in western Houston, can number in the hundreds.
Daniel Ford, renter of Vintage in Montrose, moves out. Almost three weeks after the hard frost that blew up water pipes in the condominium, he, his dog Gizmo, and his cat Dexter are still drinking bottled water.
Randall Stewart, who rents from Arcadia at Westheimer, appealed to local officials and called a city council meeting that he should go two weeks without water.
And Esteban Rodríguez, another vintage tenant, is trying to put his landlord under financial pressure by withholding rent because of the situation. “How do you hold these people accountable in a fair and decent way?” He asked.
At Villas del Paseo, a 1970s garden-style apartment of nearly 400 units where the rent for a two-bedroom is between $ 655 and $ 1,050, more than half of tenants are keeping their March rent.
“Si no tenemos agua, no Heupago!” A Houston Tenants’ Union video shows a local resident saying to a crowd of cheering neighbors outside the complex. “No water, no rent!”
Tenants intend to continue withholding the rent until a list of demands – including either an immediate return of the water supply or the ability to move to other homes until the water is returned – is met, the Houston Tenants’ Union said. They still had no running water until Friday.
Villas del Paseo residents also request a prorated rent for the days when tenants did not have running water, waiving any late fees or water charges. The complex’s property management company, Comuna Property Management, did not respond to requests for comment.
On HoustonChronicle.com: Your water pipes burst from the cold weather. Here’s what you need to know about insurance claims.
The water fees also jumped for Ford when the rent for his apartment at Vintage fell due in March and the water supply had not yet been determined. “They still billed us for water from our rent even though we had no water for the whole month,” he said. He went ahead, paid the bill, and resigned.
Thomas called on waterless tenants in Houston to call 311 so the city can begin an investigation into their situation. Houston Public Works currently operates nine apartment complexes with no continuous water supply based on 311 calls. “These families can’t sit in their homes forever,” she said. “It’s becoming a public health problem.”
“If you have no water, the sprinkler systems will not work,” emphasized Mayor Sylvester Turner during the city council meeting on March 2nd. “The fire brigade will therefore exercise its powers to aggressively force apartment owners and managers to carry out the necessary repairs in good time.”
He said the city’s legal department, public works and the Department of Neighborhoods were also working to address the issue.
While many homeowners experienced the frustration of finding parts and plumbers firsthand, tenants relied on their property managers to communicate the steps they were taking and the likely schedule for the water restoration.
For example, when Shannon Carter, a resident of Vintage in Montrose, received an email on February 26th, 10 days after the water ran out, saying it might be three weeks before it returned, she was frustrated. During this time she had showered at friends’ homes; If she had known it would be more than a month without water, she would have just made camp with her family. “There is no way I can hang around for weeks.” She said her water came back on Friday, but a note from management showed that half of the complex was still hot water off.
When asked if there was someone to talk to about the water issue, a Vintage representative replied, “No, ma’am, there isn’t” and hung up.
When a plumber tried to fix the pipes in Villas del Paseo, west Houston on Friday, the problem at Nash’s apartment, which he shares with his brother and their elderly parents, worsened. Water seeped through her ceiling and walls, soaking the carpet.
“I’m assuming with this problem we’ll have another week or two without water,” said Nash. “It’s a disaster.”