AUSTIN (KXAN) — Jajuan Curtis sat on the steps in the courtyard of his apartment on the northside of Austin Thursday afternoon, relieved he was finally able to take a hot shower in his apartment and turn on the heat.
Curtis and his neighbors have gone without hot water, heat — and for some a working stove — for nearly five weeks.
Weeks before Thanksgiving, the Texas Gas Service cut off the gas to his apartment, Midtown Flats, after a gas leak was discovered in the pipes of the building. It was turned back on a little more than a week before Christmas on Dec. 15.
“With the showers and stuff, I put a pot on the stove,” said Curtis. “Put it on there, let it get warm, put it in a little Tupperware, and I just take a bath like that.”
The gas leak is the latest in a months-long saga at Midtown Flats, according to Curtis, including rat infestations in August and early October. City records show the apartment has been issued at least eight violations from Austin Code since 2020. The apartment is not listed on the city’s Repeat Offender List, which proactively inspects apartments that have routinely been issued violations.
The president of the management company over Midtown Flats, Lyndsay Hanes, said setbacks with ‘ineffective’ plumbers led to the complex going nearly five weeks without utilities. Hanes said the gas leak itself was caused by a nearby construction crew doing a dig test. The rodent problem, Hanes said, was an inherited issue from the last management company that they are working to address.
“This is a really rough situation. And trust me, we felt terrible,” said Hanes. “Our first priority was to get the system up and functional. We did bring everybody dinner around the courtyard five different evenings. But we were mostly focused on getting the system repaired as quickly as we possibly could. And that is what we’ve done to date. The households that were most affected, the ones that did not have working stoves are being offered a rent discount for the inconvenience.”
Ten minutes away from Curtis’ is another complex that also went for weeks without utilities. The people living at Ashford Costa Azure in north Austin also celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday without heat, hot water or working stoves. The service was turned on Dec. 2 after nearly three weeks.
Austin Code said the complex was offering alternatives to residents, like hot plates and heaters, while repairs were being made to the gas lines. But residents told KXAN no such accommodations were offered to them.
Inspectors with Austin Code inspect properties once they receive a complaint, which in both cases came from the residents at the apartment complexes. For code violation cases, Inspectors ask the apartment complex management for action plans to accommodate tenants while repairs are being made to avoid going in front of the Buildings and Standards Commission where hefty fines can come down on landlords. But it can take months before an apartment gets to the point of being fined – even as renters go without basic utilities.
“There may be an extension granted. It could be 45 days or 90 days just depending on how they are accommodating those tenants,” said Austin Code Division Manager Matthew Noreiga.
Mincho Jacob works for BASTA, a nonprofit whose mission is to help renters experiencing housing issues. Jacob said renters going weeks without utilities with little to no accommodations offered during major construction and maintenance is common, especially in the more affordable areas of Austin.
“The rights of tenants are very low compared to the rest of the country, especially when you are dealing with things like utility outages, AC goes out in the middle of the summer and people say ‘that should not be the case. It should be illegal.’ It’s not,” said Jacob. “And it’s really hard to get it escalated for code to do something about it.”
Jacob suggests tenants organize and diligently document the maintenance issues to get code inspectors to step in quicker.
“When tenants are advocating for themselves, if you call code every time there is an issue if you make repeated work requests and you have docs of that then the system does work better in favor of the tenant,” said Jacob.
Curtis plans to move out of Midtown Flats as soon as his lease is up. He said the long wait for hot water and heat has pushed him to find a better place.
“They could’ve handled it better. They didn’t but they should’ve,” said Curtis.