Three weeks later, Haitham Nash still has no running water.
Three times a day he finds time outside a Mediterranean grocery store in Katy 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 brings the 5-gallon jugs filled with water back to his villa, Villas del Paseo. His back has started to feel the strain.
Nash is one of hundreds of Houston renters who are still without water after a bitter winter storm in February, leaving millions of Texans without electricity. Property management companies face many of the same problems homeowners face: difficulty booking a plumber and lack of parts. As a result, many tenants who have left their units and break down with friends or family because they cannot cook, shower, do their laundry, or flush the toilet feel that landlords should give them concessions in order to recognize the uninhabitable conditions . Some terminate their leases. Others organize rent strikes.
There is no official record of how many tenants across Houston still lack access to drinking water, as the city and the Houston Tenants’ Union only know the apartment complexes that tenants turn to.
For information about the Houston Harris County Winter Storm Relief Fund, City Council member Tiffany Thomas recommends contacting the Houston Harris County Winter Storm Relief Fund.
Write HoustonFreeze at 898211 or HoustonAyuda in Spanish at 898211. 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 end your lease, said Meghan Smolensky, an attorney for the nonprofit Lone Star Legal Aid, which offers free legal help for low-income Texans.
Send your landlord a letter stating the condition and the requested repair by registered mail with a requested return confirmation. If you are currently rented and the landlord has not made careful efforts to remedy the situation within a reasonable time – usually defined as seven days after receiving the letter – you can terminate the lease. Withholding the rent could put you at risk of getting evicted and damaging your credit, Smolensky said.
Councilor Tiffany Thomas, chair of the Housing and Community Affairs Committee, said she had delivered water to five complexes last week that had water turned off in at least some units. But the size of complexes without water, like Villas del Paseo in western Houston, put the numbers in the hundreds.
Daniel Ford, tenant at Vintage in Montrose, is moving out. Almost three weeks after the frozen water pipes in the apartment complex froze, he, his dog Gizmo, and his cat Dexter are still drinking bottled water.
Randall Stewart, who rents at Arcadia in Westheimer, appealed to local officials and called a city council meeting about being without water for two weeks.
And Esteban Rodríguez, another vintage tenant, is trying to put financial pressure on his landlord and withhold the rent due to the situation. “How do you hold these people accountable in a fair, decent way?” he asked.
At Villas del Paseo, a 1970s garden-style apartment of nearly 400 units where two-bedroom rents range from $ 655 to $ 1,050, more than half of tenants withhold their March rent.
“Si no tenemos agua, no hay pago!” A Houston Tenants’ Union video shows a resident speaking to a crowd of cheering neighbors outside the complex. “No water, no rent!”
Tenants intend to withhold rent until a list of demands – including an immediate return of water supplies or an option to move to other homes pending water return – is met, the Houston Tenants’ Union said. By Friday they had no running water.
Villas del Paseo residents are also demanding a prorated rent for the days when tenants did not have running water, with no 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 are bursting from the cold weather. Here’s what you need to know to make an insurance claim.
Water charges also rose to Ford when the rent for his apartment at Vintage fell due in March and the water service hadn’t been scheduled. “They still billed us for water for our rent even though we had no water for the whole month,” he said. He went ahead, paid the bill, and announced.
Thomas urged waterless tenants in Houston to call 311 so the city can begin investigating their situation. Houston Public Works is currently operating nine apartment complexes with no consistent water service based on 311 calls. “These families cannot sit in their homes forever,” she said. “It’s going to make it a public health problem.”
“If you have no water, the sprinkler systems will not work,” emphasized Mayor Sylvester Turner at the city council meeting on March 2nd. “The fire brigade will therefore exercise its powers to aggressively force the apartment owners and administrators to carry out the necessary repairs in good time.”
He said the city’s legal department, public works and neighborhood departments were also working to address the issue.
While many homeowners experienced the frustration of finding parts and plumbers firsthand, tenants had to rely on their property managers to communicate the steps they were taking and the likely schedule for water restoration.
For example, when Shannon Carter, a resident of Vintage in Montrose, received an email on February 26th, 10 days after the water leaked, saying it could be three weeks for it to return, she was frustrated. During this time she had showered at friends’ homes; If she had realized it was going to be over a month without water, she would have just made camp with her family. “I can’t hang around for weeks.” She said her water returned on Friday, but a statement from management suggested that half of the complex was still hot water.
When asked if there was someone to talk to about the water issue, a Vintage representative replied, “No, ma’am, it doesn’t exist” and hung up.
When a plumber tried to repair the pipes at Villas del Paseo, west Houston on Friday, the problem at Nash’s apartment, which he shares with his brother and older parents, worsened. Water began to seep 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.”