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Hurricanes and Catastrophic Status in Texas Property Law

For those of us that live on the Texas Gulf Coast, and particularly Houston and surrounding areas, it is painfully evident that the struggle to recover from the floods of Harvey continues, and complete recovery is unimaginable.

This blog follows several blogs by our firm touching on property law issues that have manifested in Houston, the city we practice in, live in and experienced Harvey in. Randle Law Office recently covered the topic of how and when to make your insurance claim and the reform of property insurance litigation via Texas House Bill 1774, as well as a discussion on what disclosure of flooding means for property owners, and how to determine what Texas property owners may need to disclose.

According to NPR, the White House has estimated about 100,000 houses were affected by the storm; many were destroyed or are too damaged to live in. More than 30,000 people were staying in emergency shelters, and have had to look for a place to stay; many are in search of rental property. Unfortunately, many rental properties have been destroyed and despite a historic glut of apartments here in Houston, rental property is now a precious commodity.

What can be done if you are a landlord or a tenant and your apartment or rental is “totally unsuitable for residential purposes?” Answers can be found in Chapter 92, Subchapter B. Repair or Closing of Leasehold in the Texas Property Code. Some of the provisions in this part of the Texas Property Code, such as Tenant’s Remedies, did result from the aftermath of disaster: Hurricane Alicia in 1983. Post-disaster legal procedures that require notice by mail, filing actions in court, or inspection by city inspectors are not measures that can immediately address the needs of tenants and landlords in an emergency or natural disaster because it is impossible to take the measures. Here in Houston, flooding caused and is still causing the loss of everything from personal belongings, pets, and cars, and fueling the rapid growth of toxic mold that will destroy structures, and impact the health of many for months to come.

On August 18, 1983, Hurricane Alicia slammed the Texas Gulf Coast only weeks after Texas lawmakers finished the second special session of the 68th legislative session. Somehow the legislature anticipated “Catastrophic Status” for landlords and tenants as Texas Property Code Section 92.054 was created and went into effect January 1, 1984. The timing is key as it has been pointed out by attorneys and commentators that the Texas legislature never contemplated the type of natural disaster that resulted from the flooding of Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

For example, what if a landlord and tenant disagree about what complete destruction of a property means? Section 92.055 of the Texas Property Code allows a landlord to close rental premises but how is notice given if the units are not inhabitable and tenants are in hotels or shelters and the mail service is not running? Some of the answers may be forged in the Texas courts in our near future, but years from now another attorney just like me will be looking at the Texas Property Code and calculating the historical dates of legislation post-disaster Harvey.

Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our real estate practice can be found here.

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