A clean, well-lighted place By Paul Sweeney Austin Under current Texas law, a tenant has few rights and little power in dealings with a residential landlord. Although legislation governing the return of security deposits, the breach of a lease and tenant lockouts was passed in 1973, there is still nothing on the books that says a dwelling must be safe, sanitary and habitable. As recently as last month, the Dallas court of civil appeals \(in Johnson v. held that “no warrant of habitability will be implied with respect to residential leasing.” Relations between landlord and tenant are calls the “front porch category.” Disputes are settled informally and on the wing, or not at all. “It is safe to say,” observes Waters, “that Texas has the worst landlordtenant situation in the country. At best we have an outline of the protection of landlords and the responsibilities of tenants. There is no mutuality of contract.” Waters has joined with Reps. SenD-“alliance for habitability” and push for a tenants’ rights bill this session. Sen. Carworked with the House group, is sponsoring similar legislation in the Senate. Based on the model Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act drafted by the American Bar Associaton, House Bill 845 would require landlords to meet all local housing codes affecting health and safety. The bill would further require landlords to provide tenants with basic services, including hot running water, plumbing, electricity and working locks. Additionally, residential properties would have to be free of rats and vermin when rented. HB 845 also would give an aggrieved tenant the leverage to exact required services from a balky landlord. Under the law, should a landlord fail to make necessary repairs to a dwelling within 15 days of notification, a tenant would have several courses of remedial action available to him: he could choose to withhold rent, break his lease without fear of forfeiting his deposit, make repairs himself and deduct costs in labor and materials from future rent payments, or seek court-awarded damages that would cover legal expenses in the bargain. Finally, HB 854 would outlaw any lease arrangement by which a tenant could waive his rights to these remedies. “Habitability is a somewhat less than radical concept,” says Waters. “In fact, standards are already in effect in 28 March 25, 1977 9 That’s all very well: smart money management, good business. The only hitch is that smart money would also decree that the many Texans who previously could hope to begin or finish or continue their college educations where they live would have to make other plans. Under the old headcount subsidy system, Southwest Texas State was able to dispatch a faculty member far from San Marcos, pay him his salary, and charge his students regular tuition. The state saw to the rest of the bill. \(An extension funding arrangement is quite different. The sponsoring institution first computes the cost of the course, then charges a per capita fee to cover it. A University of Texas at Austin extension course in San Antonio, for example, might cost about $3,000: $1,500 for the instructor’s salary and another $1,500 for travel and incidentals. For fifty students, the tuition would come to about $60; for fewer students, the charge would be Maybe we all lost There are other problems. Out-of-state colleges might move in to pick up the slack if in-state schools are forced to abandon the market created by the popularity of off-campus credit courses \(vide Antioch’s Juarez-Lincoln University in made completely self-supporting, some Texas colleges would be denied a crucial source of revenue. Clayton’s people don’t believe any college or university in the state will be forced into bankruptcy by elimination of state support for offcampus credit courses, but no one knows if schools will have to cut back on main campus services as a result of the proposed new funding arrangement. There is no question that off-campus instruction has been abused in the past, and most in a position to know say funding reforms were necessary, given the unseemly emphasis on profitability: it all looked so bad. But when someone in authority starts talking about the quality of the courses themselves, he gets pretty vague. He goes off the record: he says he’s “heard” from “somebody” that the courses weren’t very good, or that they usually amounted to a few high school teachers eating lunch together on alternate Wednesdays to study for advanced degrees. I don’t know. One thing I do know is that at the College Coordinating Board hearing on the question last year, hundreds of letters from students, college administrators, municipal governments, banks, military bases, school boards and other beneficiaries of the off-campus resident credit courses asked that at least some funding be retained. They lost. Maybe we all did. Laura Richardson is a freelance writer and a second-year law student at the University of Texas at Austin. Rep. Ron Waters
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