AUSTIN (KXAN) — Daysi Munguía’s thermostat sits at over 90° on Wednesday. One air conditioning window unit and several fans don’t do much to bring the temperature down.
“I just don’t think it’s fair that I have to go through that when I was paying my rent on time. I was being responsible as a tenant,” she said.
Munguía showed KXAN an email receipt showing she first requested management at Cannon Oaks apartments to fix her A/C on May 31.
She said she asked them for other options, like putting her family in another unit until the AC was fixed.
“I understand it’s your job, but as a mom, like, can I live in your room? Can you let my kids sleep in your living room? I can sleep in my van, but can you let my kids sleep by your house?” said the single mom of four. “I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where to go. And it’s just a little bit scary, you know.”
She said she continued to pay rent, but after weeks of record-breaking heat, the single mom of four made a tough financial choice.
“I give you the money, if you give me a date when the A/C is gonna be fixed, or otherwise I’m gonna use that money to take care of my kids,” she remembered telling management. “And that’s what I did; I just used the money, and I’ve been living at a hotel.”
That was on July 1. Her rent was due July 3.
A spokesperson at Cannon Oaks declined to comment for this story.
Mincho Jacob with Building And Strengthening Tenant Action (BASTA) said believe or not, tenants aren’t protected in Texas when it comes to A/C.
“Air conditioning is not guaranteed under the Texas property code,” he said.
But, Jacob said, there is one workaround if your unit did come with A/C when you started your lease.
“They’re required to repair things that materially affect the health and safety of tenants. And you could definitely make the argument that every tenant in Texas right now would be covered by this, because we’re over 100 degrees, and you really do need A/C to be safe,” he said.
Jacob said it’s best if you’re up-to-date on your rent and put your repair request in writing in a certified letter. You can find a template for that on their website.
He said you should also always document everything — pictures, video, screenshots and call 311 to report issues to code enforcement.
Jacob said it’s also helpful to band together with your neighbors.
“The squeaky wheel gets the grease in this system that we have,” he said. “And if the code department has seen an apartment complex that has 20, 30 complaints, they’re going to act a lot faster, because there’s a big health problem there.”
He said to do what you can to bring attention to the problem.
“It’s important that you talk to your neighbors, talk to the press, talk to whoever you can, let your government officials … you can call your council member. That’s what they’re there for,” Jacob said. “Seek legal aid. There is help out there even in an environment like Texas where there isn’t a lot of tenant protections.”
That’s where Munguía and her family find themselves now. They’ve reached out to the Austin Tenants Council and the code department.
“There’s like … a dead end at every place that I’ve been requesting help,” she said.
They don’t have much more time, or money, to stay in their hotel room and pay rent at Cannon Oaks, she said.
“I was going also paycheck-to-paycheck to not just help my mom, but my siblings. It was like, now I have to support my family,” said Munguía’s daughter, Kandy Galvan.
The 18 year old just graduated high school.
“It’s been tough. This has been my summer. My family is struggling,” she said.
They hope by speaking out, other tenants will help them bring change.
“I felt scared to be honest,” said Munguía. “But somehow I had to speak up and help others.”
“It’s not about money or getting approved or it’s too much or deposit or rent. It’s about really not having a safe place to go when situations like this happen, especially for minors,” she added.
You may be able to break your lease
Jacob said if your A/C hasn’t been repaired within a reasonable time (around a week), you may be able to break your lease, but it’s a good idea to consult with a lawyer who knows the property code before doing so.
“You want to definitely, you know, check all the boxes, cross all your T’s, dot all your I’s,” he said. “You definitely want to make sure everything is covered, so … you don’t have liabilities later on, just because you were trying to protect yourself in a dangerous situation.”
Jacob said these groups offer pro-bono council:
He also said the Austin Community Law Center may be one affordable option.