Brandon Walker, Reporter
Published: January 4, 2022, 7:46 PM
Brandon Walker, Reporter
HOUSTON – Landlords are now required to notify a prospective tenant if a rental property has had a history of flooding, or was built within a 100-year flood plain, as outlined by the state law, which took effect on Jan. 1.
H.B. 531 aims to better protect tenants who may not have known their rental was prone to flooding, according to Rep. Armando Walle, author of the legislation.
“About half of the folks who live in Harris County are renters,” said Walle, a Democrat who represents the 140th legislative district. 
The bill was first introduced in 2019 but failed. 
Walle said he noticed renters needed stronger protection while helping during the response to Hurricane Harvey.
Walle said he heard from many people who didn’t know whether their rental flooded in the past or was within a 100-year flood plain.
House Bill 531 also requires landlords to notify a prospective tenant about whether a property has flooded within the past five years.
What if a tenant isn’t notified and a property floods?
“The tenant can notify the property owner and the landlord to tell them that they want to, in essence, break their lease,” Walle said, adding that the notification comes with a 30-day notice. 
The measures are similar to requirements for those selling houses. Still, advocates for affordable housing say the law, while a welcome addition, “is a step in the right direction,” according to Chrishelle Palay, executive director for HOME Coalition. 
HOME, which stands for Houston Organizing Movement for Equity, is a non-profit organization that works to increase access to affordable housing in Houston.
Palay said the law doesn’t take into account the fact that apartments located in flood-prone areas tend to be the cheapest to rent, directly affecting the cost-burdened.
“There’s potentially an encouragement for renters to get renters insurance. But if you are already cost-burdened, then getting more renters insurance is not something you’re likely able to do,” Palay said, underscoring her support for protections the law does now provide to tenants.
However, she worries about enforcement and advocated for greater oversight of housing, with a focus on greater options for cost-burdened Houstonians.
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