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Landlord must make repairs

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Richard M. Alderman Interim Dean of the Law Center

Q. My family and I haven’t been able to take a bath or shower in our apartment due to a cracked pipe. This is very unsanitary, and I also can’t use the bathroom. I shouldn’t have to pay rent because of this condition. Will I be evicted if I stop paying rent until the situation is fixed?
A. If you just withhold rent, you can and probably will be evicted. Texas has a statute, however, that may help you. Under Texas law, regardless of what the lease says the landlord is required to repair problems that materially affect the physical health or safety of an ordinary tenant and are not caused by the tenant, occupant, or a guest.
To use this law, there re a few steps you must follow. First, assuming you are no current in your rent, give the landlord written notice of the problem. The notice should have the date, the type of problem, and your name and address. You can deliver it in person or send it by certified mail. Sending by certified mail is the recommend way to give notice. If you deliver it in person or send it by regular mail, you will need to give a second notice before taking any further steps. After you send the notice, you must wait a reasonable time for the landlord to repair the problem. The statute states that seven days is presumed reasonable, but with serious unsanitary conditions it could be much shorter.
If the landlord does not make the necessary repairs, you have several options. You may terminate the lease and move out without any further liability, you may sue in justice court for an order directing the landlord to make the repairs, and you may repair the problem and deduct the amount from you rent. In my opinion, if the landlord does not make the repairs after receiving your written notice, suing in justice court may be the best way to get the problem fixed. The court must hold a prompt hearing and by suing you avoid the practical problems that may arise if you withhold rent or terminate your lease.
In most cases, however, once the landlord receives your written notice and knows you know your legal rights, repairs are promptly made. For more information, about your rights as a tenant, look at the “Landlord Tenant” material on my website in the “Legal Topics” section, www.peopleslawyer.net.
Q. My mother recently passed away. We have a washer/dryer she bought for us. The creditor wants us to make the remaining payments. Do we have to pay?
A. When a person dies, his or her estate is responsible for his or her debts. This means the creditor should collect from your mother’s estate. If there is no money in the estate to pay the bills, the relatives or heirs are not responsible for the debts of the estate. On the other hand, in some cases you may lose the property if you do not continue to pay. If your mother gave the store what is called “a security interest” in the washer/dryer to secure payment, the store has the right to take the machines back if it is not paid. This means you either must agree to make the payments or give back the appliances.
I suggest you speak with the seller and ask them why it believes you are responsible for your mother’s debt. Then review the documents to see if the store is correct.
Q. I negotiated a great deal and signed a contract to buy a car. The next day, the dealer backed out and sold the car to someone else. Luckily, I was able to find the same car for the same price at another dealer. Now I want to sue the original seller who backed out of our deal. If I sue for breach of contract, how much can I sue for?
A. In my opinion, you can’t sue for anything. The law does not punish people for breaching a contract. The measure of damages for a breach of contract is the difference between the contract price and what you ultimately paid. Because you purchased the same car for the same price, you have no damages. It may not be “fair” that he sold the car to someone else, and it is a breach of contract, but as far as the law is concerned his conduct did not cause you any damages. If you were forced to pay more for the car, the dealer would have been responsible for the increase in the price.


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