AUSTIN (KXAN) — Days after a fire ripped through his Austin apartment complex and sent families to the hospital, Lovensky Plaisime received a letter telling him his lease was terminated.
“They basically said they could not put me in another unit,” Plaisime said. “I pretty much had to figure something out as soon as possible.”
Plaisime said in the days after the devastating fire in February 2022, the Red Cross put him up for a few days. But, afterward, he was paying out of pocket for his stay in a Killeen hotel.
Receipts show his hotel fees totaled more than $1,000.
“[I] blew through my renter’s insurance plus my own personal funds because I was staying in a hotel that long,” Plaisime said.
United Apartment Group, which owns the Rise at Cameron apartments, said it “immediately started placing residents in vacant apartments that were available at the time.”
It would not disclose how many of the displaced residents received new units and how many had their leases terminated.
The American Red Cross serving Central and South Texas said following the fire at Rise at Cameron it “assisted the unmet needs of over 60 families impacted.” It helped 27 of those find shelter.
What are renters’ rights?
Texas law has few protections for renters after a crisis, according to housing experts. Both tenants and landlords have the right to terminate a lease when an apartment is destroyed in a disaster.
But even then, landlords can withhold renters’ deposits up to a month after terminating a lease.
Neither Texas law, nor the Texas Apartment Association leases commonly used throughout the state, require landlords to place renters who are displaced in other available units or at sister properties.
“It is sad, but it is extremely common following a disaster that tenants get treated in that exact manner,” said Fred Fuchs, Housing Coordinator for the Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid and University of Texas-Austin adjunct professor.
“I do not see why the legislature couldn’t say ‘you have to immediately return the security deposit if you’re saying the unit is no longer usable or habitable, and in addition to that, you must, if you have housing available other apartments, allow the tenant to transition to those apartments on a temporary basis.’ That —both of those steps would be some help,” Fuchs said.
We reached out to a spokesperson for Texas State Sen. Sarah Eckhardt, who represents the region where the apartment is located. Her office declined to comment.
Nearly seven months after the fire, Austin Code has an open case against the complex because it still has not repaired the damaged units that displaced its residents.
“We are working closely with Austin Code, and they are up to date on our progress. We are actively working with our insurance, inspectors and contractors to facilitate repairs,” UAG Inc’s regional manager wrote in a statement.
Plaisime said after draining his savings, he was forced to move more than an hour outside Austin to Killeen, a more affordable city. He started a GoFundMe account to raise money to move back to Austin.
“I am used to hurricanes, coming from Louisiana […] destroying everything,” Plaisime said. “Now, I come to Texas and a fire destroyed everything. I was pretty much hurt just seeing everything gone.”