Weeks without water: Many Austin apartment residents still suffering after extreme winter storm

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — It was the best news Lindsey Hyde had received in three weeks — a drop of water fell from her kitchen faucet on Wednesday.

“Save it!” she yelled.

In the nearly three weeks since an extreme winter storm first hit Texas, leaving millions without power and water for days, Hyde’s North Austin apartment complex, Westdale Creek, has been without water — a scenario familiar to many apartment residents in the city.

Still, Hyde’s rent payment on March 1 didn’t change.

“They only respond with the part of the lease that says we’re not liable when snow or weather destroys something,” Hyde said. “You don’t understand because you get to go home with water and a clean place.”

A manager for Westdale Creek said plumbers expect to have water running by the end of the week but wouldn’t comment on whether rent rebates will be offered to residents. The manager said the City of Austin had recently delivered pallets of bottled water and food for residents.

Courtney Irons, a resident of Treehouse Apartments in South Austin, was in a similar position until water began flowing at her apartment on Wednesday afternoon.

As of 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Treehouse Apartments had restored water to 21 of 26 buildings, according to a manager.

Like Westdale Creek, Treehouse Apartments is not offering rebates to residents.

“My apartment hasn’t been safe to live in for half of the month and I had to pay a full month’s rent yesterday,” Irons told KXAN.

The City of Austin is advising anyone whose landlord has not restored water to their residence to call 3-1-1.

Austin Water, going before the city council’s water oversight committee on Wednesday, committed to securing and storing an emergency supply of water bottles, while readying water trucks, before another severe weather event.

An apartment at Rosemont at Oak Valley is gutted after the storm caused flooding (KXAN/Chris Nelson)

Greg Meszaros, director of the utility, said he’s preparing a report for the city manager about what went wrong during the storm and improvement the utlity can make going forward.

“Those are the types of areas that Austin Water is going to be stepping up and examining and taking steps beyond just the infrastructure of our system,” he said.

Alongside representatives of the Austin Tenant’s Council, residents of the Rosemont at Oak Valley apartment complex in South Austin presented a list of demands to management.

Several residents expressed concerns about unsafe living conditions as construction crews worked to repair apartment units that flooded during last month’s storm.

“We just want simple demands met for the whole community,” said Arthur Jimenez. “Hotel vouchers, temporary housing, not being charged for rent.

KXAN reached out to the Austin Tenants Council to find out exactly what a landlord’s responsibilities are for a tenant. Molly Jensen, the executive director of the council, said that her team has been flooded with calls and online messages asking for help and clarity.

Jensen said that landlords have a “reasonable amount of time” to fix repairs, typically presumed as seven days. However, if the landlord needs to file an insurance claim to fix that damage, repairs don’t need to begin until an insurance check is received to cover the costs.

In a statement to KXAN on Wednesday, MacDonald Companies, which owns Rosemont at Oak Valley, said in part: “The winter story damaged over 60 apartment units at Rosemont. As you know, the freeze severely impacted all of Texas, not just us. Thus, the availability of qualified contractors and materials has been the most significant impediment to repair of the units. This is especially true with respect to the broken fire sprinkler system. Under state law, these systems can only be repaired by technicians that are certified to work on such systems. Most plumbers do not have such a certification.”

The MacDonald Companies representative also said they’ve offered residents several options, including early penalty-free lease terminations and relocation to non-damaged units.

“As of today, in all of the damaged units: (a) all have power, (b) all wet material has been removed, (c) all fire sprinkler leaks have been replaced, and (d) all domestic water leaks have been repaired,” the MacDonald representative continued. “We have contractors currently on site addressing the water damage to sheetrock and flooring. Please be assured that we are making our best effort to repair our residents’ units as expediently as possible.”

Also, in most apartment lease agreements, there is no responsibility for the landlord to pay or find alternate accommodations, even if the unit is inhabitable. But FEMA can help pay for that. You can file within 60 days following the official disaster declaration.

KXAN politics reporter John Engel will have a full report tonight at 6 p.m.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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