Texas legislative bills targeting the eviction process pitted renters against landlords this week in Austin during committee hearings.
The amount of time Texas tenants have to avoid an eviction after two Republican bills were filed that seek to reduce a city’s authority to dictate a curing period.
House Bill 2035 and Senate Bill 986, all sponsored by Republicans, went before respective committees on Monday and Tuesday.
The bills focus on standardizing the curing period, or the amount of time a tenant has between the time they are notified of a missing rent payment and the time when the landlord can file to evict.
Currently, Texas adopts a three-day curing period, the minimum required by federal guidelines. In some cases, a lease can stipulate a shorter amount: 24 hours. However, cities and counties can adopt their own ordinances to give tenants more time to pay and avoid eviction. The bills would remove that authority from municipalities and counties.
“Evictions in the state are through the roof,” Ben Martin, research director for Texas Housers, said Wednesday over the phone.
Martin, who opposes House Bill 2035, testified before the Business & Industry Committee, chaired by Rep. Oscar Longoria, D-Mission.
Martin told legislators there were at least 270,000 evictions filed in Texas last year, an increase in rates seen during and before the pandemic.
“Tenants need all the help that they can get,” Martin said Wednesday. “It is very disturbing that the State of Texas would be trying to restrict local government’s ability to respond to this crisis at this time.”
Supporters of the bill, including the Texas Apartment Association, a nonprofit whose members provide 2.5 million rental units, testified before the committee too.
“These local ordinances are well-intentioned but make a traditionally uncomplicated process more complex, less timely and less fair,” said Jennifer Owen, a TAA member and attorney who has represented property owners for more than 30 years.
While some cities have a seven-day curing period, others can go longer. During the pandemic, San Marcos passed a 90-day curing period ordinance, though the measure was temporary.
Owen said one of the main concerns was the extra time longer curing periods would add for a landowner to recover payment. Some federally related mortgage properties require a longer curing period, too.
“Once the owner regains possession of the unit they’re eventually able to re-let it, but those costs for back-rent, unpaid fees, attorneys fees, and court costs and money owed for damage to the rental premises are rarely recovered,” Owens said in her testimony. “This is not sustainable especially for small owners who are extremely dependent on the timely payment of rent to pay mortgages, property taxes, insurance and property maintenance.”
Tenants need all the help that they can get. It is very disturbing that the State of Texas would be trying to restrict local government’s ability to respond to this crisis at this time.
Another colleague, Renee Zahn, who testified, gave an example from San Marcos.
“An affordable housing community in San Marcos with 330 apartments, has 37 residents who, as of this month, or as of today, have not paid their March rent,” Zahn told the senate committee on Business and Commerce. “And at the same time last year, they were on the hook for nine evictions that totaled up to a total rent loss of $300,000, or 10% of their annual revenue.”
Advocates on both sides of the issue said the impact of these bills would be felt greatly throughout their communities.
Mark Melton, from the Dallas Eviction Advocacy Center, testified before the Senate on Tuesday and said the system was “not a level playing field” and is making it “slightly less fair” to tenants.
“We have data that shows that for every 100 evictions granted, (in) 85 of them, the tenant should’ve won,” Melton said. “In the larger cities we have different problems than rural counties have. We have huge homelessness, affordable housing issues and we got a broken legal system where we’re violating the constitutional rights of our tenants every single day. And that should concern everyone.”
David Mintz, the vice president of Texas Apartment Association, said the economic impacts of missing rent affects the community at large.
“The problem is that from the owners perspective, 90%-plus of the rent dollar is going to things like salaries and the mortgage, and taking care of the property and providing services and paying taxes,” Mintz said. “And when somebody doesn’t pay the rent, or even if there’s a delay in the payment of that rent, it has a ripple effect in their ability to do those things.”
Mintz also said that in Texas, which has more than 350 home rule cities, variations in the ordinances leads to inconsistency.
“Some of the concern that we’ve heard from the Texas Apartment Association is that they don’t want their landlords navigating a patchwork of eviction regulations across the state,” Martin, from the Texas Housers, said Wednesday. “If we don’t want to deal with a patchwork of regulation, but we do want to provide tenants with this important protection, Representative Longoria has the language to amend that into the bill right now.”
The bills were heard in committee and will require a vote to make it into the next part of the process. As of Thursday, they are both pending. If they do not receive a vote, they could die in committee.
Martin said Longoria’s vote could be critical.
“So this bill was heard in committee on Monday in the House Business and Industry Committee, which representative Longoria is the chair of, it was fairly clear from the lines of questioning from the representatives on that committee that there were four votes against the bill and four votes for the bill,” Martin said. “And that Representative Longoria hangs, hangs in the balance. He is the deciding vote.”
The Monitor reached out to Longoria, who listened to the public comments on HB 2035, for comment, but he did not respond.
To find a comprehensive list of bills filed — and the status of those bills — visit MyRGV.com and click the 88th Texas Legislative Session tab, which has an interactive spreadsheet and a comprehensive list of AIM Media Texas’ legislative coverage.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include information about a lease stipulation and the temporary nature of one ordinance in San Marcos, and to correct a quote about more than 90% of the rent dollar going toward salaries and mortgage.