Emergencies are often the most stressful aspect of owning a rental property.
Today we are speaking with Margo Broughton with the Houston division of Mynd about what investors or property managers should expect in an emergency and how to determine if an emergency is occurring, overall.
Steve Rozenberg: Hi everyone. This is Steve Rozenberg with Mynd Property Management and I'm here with Margo Broughton from the Houston division of Mynd Property Management, and Margo has been a property manager for 37 years.
Margo Broughton: A very long time.
Steve Rozenberg: Very long time. What we want to talk about today is, Margo, if I'm an investor and I hear the word emergency, how do I identify, number one, what I need to do in an emergency?
Just kind of give me some understanding from a property manager's perspective of giving me some educational tips.
What is Considered an Emergency in Texas? Fire, Flood, and Blood.
Margo Broughton: Sure, absolutely. Well, one thing is a little bit reassuring for you as a property owner, there are very few things that are considered emergencies, especially in the state of Texas, there's almost nothing that's considered an emergency.
Steve Rozenberg: I think it's important for people to understand is knowing the definition of what is an emergency.
Margo Broughton: Absolutely, absolutely. The overall understanding is fire, flood, and blood.
Steve Rozenberg: Okay, fire, flood, and blood.
Tenant Emergencies vs. Property Owner Emergencies
Margo Broughton: Those are probably the biggest emergencies you're ever going to have. Now, what tenants think are an emergency, and what a property owner thinks are an emergency are two entirely different things.
Typically, property managers or management companies will have a set of guidelines that they use. For example, you might say, “well, an AC being out is an emergency if the temperature is over X amount,” then you might consider that an emergency. And basically, then you want to get out there within 24-48 hours to get something fixed.
But again, it's not a code that it's an emergency, but certainly, in the middle of summer in Texas, a tenant will think that an AC being out is an emergency.
Know the Texas Law
Steve Rozenberg: Right, and then obviously there are laws, Texas property code, that will dictate what the law actually states. That's the end all-be all when it comes to emergency, un-emergency.
Margo Broughton: Absolutely. I took a quote actually out of the Texas property code here. According to the Texas property code, a reasonable time to make repairs is all it says, so it's very ambiguous. It's kind of, you have to sort of read between the lines.
But what it says in our Texas property code is that there is a presumption that seven days is a reasonable time to address something, and that's not even to fix it. That's to go out, check it out, maybe get a contractor, have it dispatched, that sort of thing.
You want to have it addressed within seven days according to Texas law.
Is the Property Safe and Habitable?
Steve Rozenberg: Okay.
Now, let's talk about safety and habitability of a property, because that's important. It may not be considered quote, unquote an “emergency,” but it could be making the house unsafe or uninhabitable.
Margo Broughton: Absolutely. One of the things that I like to talk about when we're talking about emergencies, is if you are doing periodic inspections or assessments of your properties, that's going to help, hopefully bringing down the number of emergencies that you have.
So you can look at it ahead of time and kind of take a proactive stance. That's going to help. Now if a property becomes uninhabitable, let's say as we experienced in Houston, as you know, during hurricane Harvey, properties became uninhabitable because of that storm.
If that's the case, you can't hold a tenant to the lease during that time. In situations like that you would have to let them out of the lease and give their security deposit back.
Steve Rozenberg: Right. And just so people understand, uninhabitable: sewage, rat infestation, those kinds of things, right?
Margo Broughton: Yeah, rats, sewage, bedbugs—all of those things will affect the health and safety of an ordinary tenant. And that's kind of the key. Those are good points that you just brought up, that those things will affect the health and safety of people.
Making Maintenance Repairs Without Notice
Steve Rozenberg: Let me ask you this, and obviously in the lease agreement it normally states that you have to give prior notification to getting into a property if you're going to repair it, but there are certain times where you don't have to give that.
Margo Broughton: That's right. That's right.
Steve Rozenberg: What are those times?
Margo Broughton: Most of the time what we see in property management and where it happens a lot is water. If you've got standing water, falling water, rising water, all of those things obviously can seriously affect the house, not only damage everything in there: electrical, sheetrock, all of it.
Steve Rozenberg: Water is dangerous.
Margo Broughton: Water is bad. You want to get in there as fast as you can.
And as long as you can get in there and just even knock on the door and say, “Hey, I'm here to fix that,” most tenants are going to be happy to see you.
Steve Rozenberg: Right. If there's a storm going on and the roof blows off, you're not going to make an appointment with the tenant. That's an emergency situation.
You're going to go there and fix it, and you're going to get it taken care of or send someone.
Making Repairs When a Tenant Owes Money…
Steven Rozenberg: I think there is something that's interesting that, as a landlord, most people do not know, that is if there's a tenant that owes money and they have a problem with the property, and this is a Texas law—can you explain what that is for the people?
Margo Broughton: Absolutely. Landlords are happy to know this, that if the tenant owes money for rent, they haven't paid their rent, they call in a work order, you don't have to fix that work order until that rent is paid in full.
That is stated also in the Texas property code.
Steve Rozenberg: Right.
Obviously, you don't want to make your property worse by proving a point. You've got flooding water, you don't say, “You owe me money, I'm not going to fix it,” but it's something to note that if the tenant owes you money and they start saying this needs to be fixed, and this needs to be fixed, and they start making a litany of lists that are going down, you can say, “Wait a second, by law, I do not have to fix anything, because you owe money.”
Margo Broughton: Right. And you also don't have to fix anything if they caused the damage. If themselves, or their friends, or their visitors caused damage, it is not up to the landlord to fix those things.
And if the landlord does fix them, that certainly can be charged back to the tenant.
...Or If The Tenant Caused the Emergency
Steve Rozenberg: What if they caused the emergency?
Margo Broughton: Again, so this happens where a tenant might call the police, I just had one of these the other day, the police come bust down the door because they're having some kind of domestic dispute. Now the house is not secure.
Is that an emergency?
That's probably an emergency. So of course we're going to go out and take care of it because of liability reasons, but we're going to charge that back to the tenant.
Steve Rozenberg: It's going to go back to the tenant, yeah.
So, I think what people need to hear and know is that yes, there are emergencies, but again, there are rules and maybe caveats with those emergencies.
Like you said, not everything is an emergency, and most things are not emergencies unless the house is flooding, it's on fire or there's blood, as you said. But again, it's just something to understand that, when you are a landlord here in Texas, there are laws that protect the landlord and that protect the tenant, as well.
There's things that you need to know and understand, so Texas property code is obviously good for you to know and understand. Margo, if they want to maybe find us, and they want to know a little bit more about Mynd, obviously they can go to a website, mynd.co. M-Y-N-D.co. And again, they can look us up online. Margo, thank you very much. I appreciate it.
Margo Broughton: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Steve Rozenberg: We'll talk to you guys later. Bye. Bye.
Margo Broughton: Bye.
Bottom Line on Emergency Maintenance
It might be reassuring to know that, as an investor or property manager, very few things are considered an emergency. While a tenant may have a different perspective on this statement, typically an emergency, from a property management perspective, involves one of three things—fire, flood, or blood.
Likewise, while not often considered an immediate emergency, certain situations, such as a broken heater or air conditioner, can become an emergency, depending on the time of year.
As such, it is always best to keep up with regular maintenance, have a dependable team of vendors, and know what rules and regulations are spelled out in codes and ordinances that dictate resolving such a scenario.