Friday, November 11, 2011

Home Office in Small Space

Creating a home office in a small space is a common perplection of many apartment renters. Here are some tips for separating out a place to work and study. - Clean a space that can house your laptop or desktop. - Use your creativity when laying out different plans for paper storage, pen holders, etc. - Keep the area dedicated, don't let other areas of the house fall into your office space. - Utilizing a closet is also a great way to open up a less used space.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Curious Question

When looking over your lease for an apartment, some of the phrases may be new to you. One that we get asked about is a re-letting charge. Using the Texas Apartment Association's definition, a re-letting charge is a sum of money or percentage of the rent that is agreed to cover the property owner's costs of finding another acceptable resident if you move out before the end of your lease term. Good to know!

Monday, October 17, 2011


The Fair Housing Council of Greater San Antonio provides assistance for groups of people who feel they have been discriminated against renting a house or apartment. Who do they protect?

Protected Classes

  • Color
  • Sex
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Familial status
  • Race

In San Antonio, the local ordinance includes “age” as an additional protected class.

They use the Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, along with the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, is called the Fair Housing Act.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Avoiding a Rental Scam

There are some points to keep in mind when renting an apartment or home from someone online. The Texas Apartment Association provides this excellent advice. And you can always call us to help with your search! -Compare prices of rental properties in the surrounding area. If it seems like too good of a deal to be true, it probably is. -If you are dealing with a property owner overseas, be aware. -Never pay advance money without inspecting the property yourself. -Protect your personal information. -Do not wire transfer money to an online advertiser.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Fair Housing Review

The Fair Housing of Greater San Antonio can conduct a free review of your apartment to decide if it meets the Fair Housing Act’s accessibility requirements. If you you would like this done or have questions, you can contact the Council at (210) 733-3247.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Some Info on Renters Insurance

Disasters are happening all around us. One of the best ways to ensure you peace of mind is to have insurance. Even renters should have a policy that covers their property should an accident or natural disaster occur. This article is from the webpage. It has a great basic explanation of what insurance is, what it covers, etc. Always verify your policy covers what you expect, and you can feel confident your valuables can be replaced. Be sure to also take an inventory of your belongings, so that you can be property compensated. What insurance covers - Fire - Vandalism - Theft - Water Damage - Explosion - etc

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Budget For Moving

When moving to a new apartment, you need to consider many different costs. For example, you need to consider the cost of renting a moving truck, and having movers if needed. Also, what new furniture and decor you will need in your new place. Lastly, adding up expenses such as turning off and on utilities will help you keep on a moving budget!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Halloween Driving

On Halloween night, the streets will be crawling with ghosts, goblins, witches, and many other creatures! Safely driving on this night is very important! Use these tips from - Do not use your cell phone or other devices. Watch the road! - Pay extra attention at crosswalks and intersections. - Do not pass other vehicles that have stopped in the roadway. - Drive below posted speed limit.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Gardening in Your Apartment

Buying organic can get expensive! But with a few hours of work you can have a garden of your own in your apartment! We found these tips from, all about container gardening.

- Check with your complex that they will allow container gardens on your patio or balcony.
- Research the plants you wish to pot and grow.
- Make sure the plants will get plenty of sunlight!
- Pick the right soil for the plants.
- Water and enjoy your labors!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Afford Your Rent

The Austin Tenants' Council provides these tips for what you can afford in an apartment for rent. Also, we provide an online rent calculator that can help you make the decision as well. After determining how many roommates there will be, consider how much rent each person can afford. Generally, 30 percent of a person’s income is considered an affordable housing cost. Other expenses such as utility bills, phone bills, and cable TV bills should be included in calculating what can be afforded. There are many up-front costs when renting such as security deposits, pet deposits, utility deposits, and installation charges. Except in an “all bills paid” unit, these items are extra. Ensuring that all roommates can afford to pay the rent and other expenses is the best way to avoid problems. Careful preparation and assessment of financial resources will prevent any roommates from getting in over his head and jeopardizing the other roommates’ credit and rental histories.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Help for Victims of Fires

From Fox Network in Austin- a compiled list of how to help with the local fires.


How to Help Fire Victims

Updated: Thursday, 08 Sep 2011, 1:15 PM CDT
Published : Monday, 05 Sep 2011, 11:58 AM CDT

Below are a list of agencies and groups that are collecting money and donations to help the victims of the Central Texas fires.

FOX 7 Food Drive

FOX 7, Clear Channel Austin Radio, Sonic Drive Ins and the Capital Area Food Bank are joining forces to help the victims of the Central Texas fires. Now through September 23rd bring a donation of nonperishable food items to any Sonic Drive In location. A Sonic car hop will accept your donation and you won’t even have to get out of your car. Help make a difference for victims of the Central Texas fires. Bring nonperishable food donations to any Sonic location for a quick and easy delivery today.

Most desired food donations are healthy, non-perishable items such as:
- Water, Gatorade
- Ready to eat meals preferably with pull up or pop tops, e.g. chili, stew, canned pasta w/sauce
- Single serving snacks such as protein or granola bars
- Lunchables or other single serving foods that do not require refrigeration
- Diapers
- Baby formula


Red Cross of Central Texas

You can donate to the Red Cross by visiting their WEBSITE or by calling 512-929-1250 or 512-928-4271. Or you can text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

Also you can donate in person or by mailing a check to:

American Red Cross of Central Texas
2218 Pershing Drive
Austin, TX 78723

Red Cross is looking or volunteers. If you would like to volunteer please call the Red Cross at 512-928-4271.

Austin Disaster Relief Network

To make a donation to the Austin Disaster Relief Network, visit their WEBSITE or mail a check to:

Austin Disaster Relief Network
P.O. Box 3817
Cedar Park, Tx 78630
Attn: Greater Austin/Bastrop Fire Relief Fund


Bastrop Christian Ministerial Alliance 512-718-0190
Austin Disaster Relief Network 512-331-2600
Red Cross of Central Texas (512) 929-1250


Red Cross of Central Texas (512) 928-4271.
Austin Disaster Relief Network (512) 331-2200
Brave New Books (512) 825-9142

PERSONAL SUPPLIES DONATIONS (new pillows, bed sheets, blankets, towels and toilettries)

Catholic Charities of Central Texas 651-6132
Trinity Zion Church @ 151 Shiloh Rd., 512-332-8661 or 512-332-8977
Brave New Books , 1904 Guadalpe, Austin (512) 825-9142
Cowboy Harley-Davidson of Austin , 10917 S IH-35 (512) 448-4294
Cabela's , 15570 S IH-35, Buda (512) 295-1100


Austin - Capital Area Food Bank 8201 S. Congress Avenue, Austin , TX 78745 (8-5 p.m. or leave in boxes on dock outside of those hours)
Georgetown - Caring Place 2000 Railroad St. Georgetown, TX 78627, 512-869-4735
Round Rock - Round Rock Serving Center 1099 East Main St. Round Rock, TX 78664, 512-244-2431
Round Rock - SVDP Round Rock 620 Round Rock West Round Rock, TX 78681, 512-255-2330
Wells Fargo Bank at 2028 E. Ben White Blvd 794-4966
11880 Old 2243 West Suite 600
Leander, Texas 78641
Giddings Food Pantry, 190 North Harris, Giddings, TX


Old Wind's/Dollar General Store, 210 Main St, Smithville, TX
Zion Church, 151 Shiloh Road, Bastrop TX, 512-308-9344
St. Vincent de Paul South Congress Store, South Congress Ave, Austin, TX, 512 442-5652, 1327
St. Vincent de Paul Yager Collection Center, (512) 238-6737, 18 West Yager Ln, Austin, TX
Rundell Business Park at 704 Hwy 71 West (11 a.m. to 8 p.m.) 512.332.8661
VFW Hall in Elgin, 118 Old Sayers Road, Elgin, TX 78621
Palm Valley Lutheran church, Round Rock (512) 255-3322
Burnet County Sheriff's Office, 1601 E. Polk (512) 756-8080
Spicewood Community Center, 7901 County Road 404, (830) 693-6574

YMCA Offering Free Child Watch for Bastrop-Area Residents

Beginning Tues., Sept. 6, 10am - 5pm

Ages: Potty-Trained & Older

Location: Bastrop Christian Church
1104 Church St.

Contact: Terry Moore: (727) 643-2977

The YMCA of Austin is providing free child care for Bastrop-area families with trained, licensed staff so parents can handle urgent family business while kids enjoy recreational time in a fun, safe environment. Space is available on a first-come, first-served basis. The service will continue for a limited time through the duration of the wildfire crisis.


All three Z'Tejas locations in Austin (6th Street, Arboretum & Avery Ranch) are collecting Toiletries, Bottled Water, Non-perishable food items, Towels, Trash bags, Work Gloves, Clothing and Flash Lights with batteries. There are boxes at the entrance to each location, and we are accepting donations through Friday night. We will deliver the items to the designated drop-off areas on Monday, September 12.

Austin Dirty Dog

Austin Dirty Dog is accepting pet related donations at all locations: dog/cat food, cat litter, crates, toys, towels, etc

Texas Lost Pines Riding Club

Please drop off feed for livestock at the Texas Lost Pines Riding Club. People are there to accept hay, grain, and any

feed as well as buckets, feeders, etc.

Texas Lost Pines Riding Club
186B Hwy 995
Elgin TX 78621

Read more:

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Fair Housing Claims

If you feel you have been discriminated against as a renter of an apartment, the Fair Housing Council of Greater San Antonio is who you can turn to for help. They are your advocate for victims of housing discrimination. Keep in mind, the deadline to file a federal complaint is 1 year from incident, and for a civil lawsuit 2 years.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Keep Payment Receipts

When renting an apartment, it is a good idea to keep any receipts for rent, deposit, or any other money you pay. The Austin Tenants' Council provides this advice. Proof of Rent Payment(s) Keep a file of all your rent receipts as documentation that your rent is always paid and current. If the landlord will not provide you with receipt(s) for rent payments, write the receipt(s) yourself and obtain the landlord’s signature on those receipts for your records.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Reasonable Modifications

If you have a disability, you have a right to reasonable modifications in your apartment. This article is from the Fair Housing of San Antonio website.

Reasonable Modifications

Under the Fair Housing Act, it is also unlawful for any housing provider to refuse to permit, at the expense of the disabled person, reasonable modifications of existing premises occupied or intended to be occupied by such person if such modifications may be necessary to afford such person full enjoyment of the premises of a dwelling. A “modification” is any structural change to the public or common-use areas of a building or any structural change to a dwelling unit.

clipboard icon NOTE: Although tenants are generally responsible for paying the costs of the modifications, this is not the case if the modifications should already be in place. Many apartment complexes that were built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, do not meet all of the accessibility requirements under the Fair Housing Act. If the apartment complex is not in compliance with the accessibility requirements, the owner of the complex should pay for the modifications that a tenant requests which the owner is already responsible to completing in order to bring the complex into compliance. Furthermore, if the tenant lives at an apartment complex that receives federal funding, the tenant can, in most cases, request that the owner of the apartment complex pay for the modifications, as an accommodation to the tenant.

In the case of a rental unit, the landlord may, where it is reasonable to do so, condition permission for a modification on the tenant agreeing to restore the interior of the premises to the condition that existed before the modification, reasonable wear and tear excepted. However, in general, if the modifications do not affect the landlord or subsequent renter’s use and enjoyment of the premises, the renter should not be required to restore the modifications to their prior state.

The landlord may not increase for disabled tenants any customarily required security deposit. However, the landlord may negotiate a restoration agreement with the tenant where it is necessary in order to ensure with reasonable certainty that funds will be available to pay for the restorations at the end of the tenancy. This restoration agreement would outline provisions requiring the tenant pay into an interest bearing escrow account (over a reasonable period of time) a reasonable amount of money not to exceed the cost of the restoration. The interest in any such account shall accrue to the benefit of the tenant. This means that landlords may not routinely require such escrow payments, but must instead make a case-by-case determination based on such factors as the extent and nature of the modification involved, the duration of the lease, and the credit and rental history of the individual tenant.

A landlord may condition permission for a modification on the tenant providing a reasonable description of the proposed modifications, as well as, reasonable assurances that the work will be done in a workmanlike manner and that any required building permits will be obtained.

An applicant for rental housing has a child who uses a wheelchair. The bathroom door in the dwelling unit is too narrow to permit the wheelchair to pass. The applicant asks the landlord for permission to widen the doorway at the applicant's own expense. It is unlawful for the landlord to refuse to permit the applicant to make the modification. Furthermore, the landlord may not, in usual circumstances, condition permission for the modification on the applicant paying for the doorway to be narrowed at the end of the lease because a wider doorway will not interfere with the landlord's or the next tenant's use and enjoyment of the premises.

A disabled tenant asks his landlord for permission to install grab bars in the bathroom at his own expense. It is necessary to reinforce the walls with blocking between studs in order to affix the grab bars. It is unlawful for the landlord to refuse to permit the tenant, at the tenant’s own expense, from making the modifications necessary to add the grab bars. However, the landlord may condition permission for the modification on the tenant agreeing to restore the bathroom to the condition that existed before the modification, reasonable wear and tear excepted. It would be reasonable for the landlord to require the tenant to remove the grab bars at the end of his tenancy. The landlord may also reasonably require that the wall to which the grab bars are to be attached be repaired and restored to its original condition, reasonable wear and tear excepted. However, it would be unreasonable for the landlord to require the tenant to remove the blocking, since the reinforced walls will not interfere in any way with the landlord’s or the next tenant’s use and enjoyment of the premises and may be needed by some future tenant.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Safety Tips for Summer Apartment Moving

From our friends at Unicorn Moving:

Moving can be a challenging process, but can be especially difficult in the extreme Texas heat. During the summer months, it is important for individuals or families that are preparing for a move to be prepared to face the high temperatures. After you have found your new home, it may be necessary to take precautions for the moving process.
Ways to Stay Safe in the Heat
Apartments are a popular home choice in Austin because of their convenient locations, affordable rent, and availability to the large student population. The busiest moving season is from May to August, and although this may be the most convenient time to move to your new home, it is also the hottest time of year. Some tips for safe summer time apartment moving include:
• Ensuring that your electricity and air conditioning have been turned on at the new location
• Providing plenty of water to your family, friends, and moving team
• Storing plants in a place where they will be safe from the heat
• Finding a place for children and pets to stay during the moving process
• Knowing where the elevators and ramps are in the apartment complex ahead of time
Moving can be simplified with the help of an experienced apartment locator and a qualified team of Austin movers. For more information about summer moving safety or to begin preparing for your move, please visit our website.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Avoiding Problems

The Texas Apartment Association gives this advice on avoiding rental problems.

Most disagreements between residents and rental housing owners or managers occur because of misunderstandings about obligations each has agreed to in the lease.

To limit problems:

  • Read your lease carefully before you sign it.
  • Ask questions about anything that is unclear, or that you don't understand.
  • Put everything in writing, including agreements, notices and requests.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Austin Market

This is an article from The Statesman- with a good look into the current Austin apartment market.

With rents at an all-time high and occupancies rising, the Austin-area apartment market is among the healthiest in the nation right now and it could stay that way for a while, national and local real estate experts say.

Thanks to the area's job and population growth and the limited number of apartment units under construction, the Austin market is performing at a level similar to cities like San Jose, Calif.; San Francisco; Portland, Ore.; and Seattle.

"In my 25 years of analyzing the apartment market in Austin, I've never seen things as tight as they are right now," said Charles Heimsath, president of Capitol Market Research, an Austin-based real estate consulting firm.

That's created a favorable situation for landlords — but a challenge for Austin renters like Joshua Love.

Love, an information technology manager, said rising rents will likely prompt him to leave the Woodtrail at Riata complex in Northwest Austin. He's been paying $586 a month for a one-bedroom apartment but got notice last month that his monthly rent could rise to $694 a month for a six- to nine-month lease renewal, or to $840 for a three- to five-month lease and as high as $890 for a month-to-month renewal.

"I would say shock was kind of an understatement," said Love, 35. But with the complex at 98 percent occupancy, he said, "they can do whatever they want with the rent."

Across the Austin area, rents soared to a record high in June, averaging $772 a month for a one-bedroom unit and $1,043 for a two-bedroom, according to Capitol Market Research.

The occupancy rate was 96 percent and could reach 97 percent by the end of the year, Heimsath predicts. That's because only two new apartment communities brought units to market in the first half of 2011, and only three new projects with 839 units combined are scheduled to be completed in the second half of the year, Heimsath noted in a midyear report. Five projects are under construction, with 1,623 units that are expected to be ready next year, Heimsath said.

Several developers are poised to start projects this year or next, including Cypress Real Estate Advisors, Gables Residential, HPI Residential and Grayco Partners.

Taylor Bowen, vice president of development for AMLI Residential, said Austin "continues to be one of our top-performing markets."

Minus concessions, AMLI has seen rent growth of about 6.5 percent this year and projects about 7.5 percent rent growth for 2011 at its seven Austin apartment complexes with 1,700 units.

Bowen said the apartment development pipeline is heating up, and there's stiff competition for sites. The number of units being proposed could be cause for concern "if we hit a severe economic downturn or double-dip recession" and job growth wanes, because "we could be setting ourselves up to where we could start to see an oversupply" of apartments in some areas.

"We think somewhere around 10,000 to 12,000 new starts are being proposed, and we know that that's above the historical norm," Bowen said. He said 7,000 to 8,000 new apartment starts annually is a healthy number for the Austin market.

But for now, the relative limited new supply, coupled with other factors, leads Heimsath to predict that rents will be on the rise for the next 12 to 18 months.

On a per-square-foot basis, overall rents, across all unit sizes, rose 6 percent by June to $1.04 a foot from 98 cents a square foot in December, Heimsath said.

"I'm not surprised at the occupancy rate," Heimsath said. "I was quite surprised at how quickly the rents had moved up. I expected about a 3 percent increase in rent, and to have an increase of twice that amount was really extraordinary."

Robin Davis, manager of Austin Investor Interests, said in her latest report that rising occupancies and rents at historical highs "point to a market that is currently operating at astounding levels." With rents escalating — Davis said they are up for the sixth quarter in a row — tenants are doubling up, making two-bedroom units the most-requested type, Davis said in her report.

Davis said the Austin area added about 9,200 new jobs from June 2010 to June 2011.

Out-of-state job seekers or employees being transferred also are beefing up the tenant pool, accounting for about 35 percent to 40 percent of the leasing traffic. At least half of those are employed, and the rest have been accommodated by flexible leasing policies, including allowing a renter to provide proof they can pay at least three to six months' rent.

"As many areas of the country continue to stumble out of the recession, Austin's thriving employment market will attract job seekers, providing a boon for local apartment owners," said the latest report by Marcus & Millichap.

Still, with parts of the country having seen substantial depreciation in home values and mounting foreclosures in recent years, "I think there's a lot more uncertainty regarding the purchase of a home as a safe investment," Heimsath said.

But Greg Willett, vice president of research for MPF Research, said he doesn't think there is a basic shift in the desire for homeownership. Rather, lending standards have reverted to historical norms, and only a small share of the population is in their 30s, the prime first-time buying age.

For some, the newer apartment communities can be an attractive alternative to single-family homes, Heimsath said. As rents continue to ratchet up, however, Heimsath expects demand for entry-level housing to accelerate.

Natalie Young, a real estate agent and manager with A+ Apartment Locating in Austin, said renters are seeking apartment-locating services more than ever .

"They are shocked at the increases for renewing their lease, which is causing many of them to move to new apartments and potentially downgrade in both size and quality," Young said.

Love, the Riata tenant, said he's used to seeing $25 or $30 a month increases over time as a renter, and never more than $100 a month. But he said that after the latest rent increases, "I have a feeling I'll be leaving this place one way or another."

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Directory of Accessible Housing

From the Fair Housing of Greater San Antonio website- a great resource for those of you living in or searching for an apartment.

The Fair Housing Council of Greater San Antonio (FHCOGSA), in partnership with Making Housing Accessible, a program of The Enterprise Foundation, has created The Directory of Accessible Housing. Funded through a grant from The Kronkosky Charitable Foundation, The Directory enables the elderly and people with disabilities to find suitable rental housing in San Antonio and/or Bexar County. The Directory provides information about accessible units, eligibility criteria, price ranges, amenities, school districts, nearby businesses, etc. for apartment complexes and/or housing facilities in San Antonio and Bexar County.

In determining an apartment complex and/or housing facility’s eligibility for inclusion in The Directory of Accessible Housing, the Fair Housing Council considered whether the complex/facility had wheelchair accessible dwelling units, whether the complex/facility provided housing targeted for the elderly and/or people with disabilities, and whether the complex/facility participated in any housing assistance programs funded by the local, state, or federal government.

Visit to search for housing that meets your needs, to learn about laws dealing with accessibility in housing, or to add your apartment complex and/or housing facility to The Directory of Accessible Housing.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hot Weather Pet Care

Getting through a hot summer is hard for people, but also for our pets! Below is an article from

When the lazy days of barbecues and swimming pools roll around, you can make them even better by sharing them with your favorite pet. By following a few summer pet safety tips, you can keep your animal friends healthy and enjoy the months of sun and fun.

Never leave your pet in the car. Though it may seem cool outside, the sun can raise the temperature inside your car to 120 degrees Fahrenheit in a matter of minutes, even with the windows rolled down. If you need to run some errands, leave the furry ones at home.
As you’re outside enjoying the warm weather, keep your pet leashed. It will keep her from getting lost, fighting other animals, and eating and drinking things that could make her sick. This tip isn’t just for dogs--even cats can learn to walk on a leash if you train them. (See How can I teach my cat to walk on a leash?)
Water, water everywhere. Whether you’re indoors or out, both you and your pet need access to lots of fresh water during the summer, so check her water bowl several times a day to be sure it’s full. If you and your furry friend venture forth for the afternoon, bring plenty of water for both of you.
Pets need sunscreen too. Though all that fur helps protect her, your pet can get sunburned, particularly if she has light skin and hair. Sunburn in animals can cause problems similar to those it can cause in people, including pain, peeling, and skin cancer. So keep your pet out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and when you do go out, rub a bit of sunblock on unprotected areas like the tips of her ears, the skin around her lips, and the tip of her nose.
Say no to tangles. Keeping your pet well groomed will help her hair do what it was designed to do: protect her from the sun and insulate her from the heat. If she has extremely thick hair or a lot of mats and tangles, her fur may trap too much heat, so you may want to clip her. (See Should I shave my thick-furred dog in the summer?)
Watch out for antifreeze. Hot weather may tempt your pet to drink from puddles in the street, which can contain antifreeze and other chemicals. Antifreeze has a sweet taste that animals like, but it’s extremely toxic. When you’re walking your pet, make sure she doesn’t sneak a drink from the street.
Be cautious on humid days. Humidity interferes with animals’ ability to rid themselves of excess body heat. When we overheat we sweat, and when the sweat dries it takes excess heat with it. Our four-legged friends only perspire around their paws, which is not enough to cool the body. To rid themselves of excess heat, animals pant. Air moves through the nasal passages, which picks up excess heat from the body. As it is expelled through the mouth, the extra heat leaves along with it. Although this is a very efficient way to control body heat, it is severely limited in areas of high humidity or when the animal is in close quarters.
Make sure your pet doesn’t overexert herself. Though exercise is an important part of keeping your dog or cat at a healthy weight, which helps her body stay cool, overdoing it can cause her to overheat. Keep the walks to a gentle pace and make sure she has plenty of water. If she’s panting a lot or seems exhausted, it’s time to stop.
Take it easy on pets that can’t deal with the heat. Elderly, very young, and ill animals have a hard time regulating their body temperature, so make sure they stay cool and out of the sun on steamy summer days. Dogs with snub noses, such as Pekingese, pugs, and bulldogs, have a hard time staying cool because they can’t pant efficiently, so they also need to stay out of the heat. Overweight dogs are also more prone to overheating, because their extra layers of fat act as insulation, which traps heat in their bodies and restricts their breathing capabilities.
Bring them inside. Animals shouldn’t be left outside unsupervised on long, hot days, even in the shade. Shade can move throughout the afternoon, and pets can become ill quickly if they overheat, so keep them inside as much as possible. If you must leave your pet in the backyard, keep a close eye on her and bring her in when you can.
Keep an eye out for heatstroke. Heatstroke is a medical emergency. If you suspect your pet has heatstroke (see "Signs of Heatstroke,"below), you must act quickly and calmly. Have someone call a veterinarian immediately. In the meantime, lower the animal’s body temperature by applying towels soaked in cool water to the hairless areas of the body. Often the pet will respond after only a few minutes of cooling, only to falter again with his temperature soaring back up or falling to well below what is normal. With this in mind, remember that it is imperative to get the animal to a veterinarian immediately. Once your pet is in the veterinarian’s care, treatment may include further cooling techniques, intravenous fluid therapy to counter shock, or medication to prevent or reverse brain damage.

Even with emergency treatment, heatstroke can be fatal. The best cure is prevention, and Fido and Fluffy are relying on you to keep them out of harm’s way. Summer does not have to be fraught with peril--with ample precaution, both you and your furry friends can enjoy those long, hot dog-days of summer.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Wondering what your rights are as a tenant of an apartment? The Texas Attorney General has published this useful sheet.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sure Deposits: What is a Standard Deposit vs. a Sure Deposit Fee?

Everyone seems to know that a deposit for an apartment is a sum of money that you have to put down before moving in. Generally it covers any damages that may occur to the property during the term of your lease. Depending on the number of bedrooms, the type of apartment, current specials, etc. the cash amount of the deposit can vary greatly.

More and more communities are now giving you a choice in the type of deposit you supply: A standard deposit or a Sure Deposit. A Sure Deposit can purchase allows you to purchase a bond that can potentially cover any damage in your apartment for a much lower fee than would be required for a standard deposit. It is a service provided by Sure Deposit Incorporated. For example, a standard deposit would go something like “$250 for a 1 bedroom” vs. a Sure Deposit “fee” (non-refundable) of $87.50 that allows you to purchase a $500 bond for your apartment. You pay this fee directly to Sure Deposit Incorporated.

To be clear, if you have damages in the apartment, the bond does not cover those damages over the amount of the bond. In the example above, Sure Deposit would pay the apartment community, the full amount of damages up to $500, however they WILL also come after you for the FULL amount they pay the apartment.

They system is designed to allow renters not to have to come up with so much upfront cash. You as a renter know how you live and need to decide what suits you. If you have more questions about how Sure Deposit works or you want to know which Austin apartments are going in this direction, give us a call!

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Texas Attorney General provides great information about your rights as a tenant. Check out this excerpt from their website about the relationship between the apartment and tenant.

The relationship between Texas landlords and their tenants is governed by several statutes, particularly Chapter 92 of the Texas Property Code, and by various court rulings. However, the most important source of information about your relationship with your landlord is your rental agreement, whether it is written or oral.

Some landlords prefer oral agreements, but it is more common for them to require your signature on a written lease. Be sure to read the lease carefully before you sign it.

If you want to change a part of the lease, discuss it with the landlord. If the landlord agrees, the two of you should decide how you want to word the change, and then write it into the agreement. Both you and the landlord should then initial the change. For example, many standard leases prohibit pets, but your landlord may be willing to accept a pet if you put down extra money as security.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Apartment Hunting

Apartment hunting with a locater takes only a couple hours to half a day of searching, depending on the client. We know what we are doing, and can match you with a community that holds what you are searching for, quickly! Just another reason to use us to help you find your new home!

Monday, July 25, 2011

What Does Our Services Cost to the Renter?

Nothing! We get paid by the apartments when we bring them qualified applicants who sign a lease. So our services are free to those applicants! Come in or give us a call today so we can help you find the apartment you are looking for!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Security Deposit Deductions

When moving out of an apartment, we all want to get our security deposit back. But what can be deducted? Knowing this can get us more of the money back that we paid up front. The Texas Apartment Association gives this explanation.

Any charge specified in the lease or any charge resulting from your breaking the lease.
Charges for damages, wear and tear resulting from negligence, carelessness, accident or abuse on your part. "Normal wear and tear" items cannot be deducted.
Unpaid rent and other unpaid charges listed in your lease, such as those for late rent payment, returned checks, missing furniture or fixtures, keys you don't return to the management, etc.
The reasonable cost of cleaning if you fail to properly clean before you leave. Many rental properties have written cleaning instructions for you to follow.

Any deduction must be listed in a written description and itemization mailed to you on or before 30 days after you leave. However, there is no obligation that you be furnished this information if you have not paid all of your rent or if you have not given your forwarding address in writing.

Monday, July 18, 2011

SAAA Education

The San Antonio Apartment Association offers classes that provide education for both tenants and landlords of apartments.

Click here for the schedule.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Priced Out

Found this on the Austin Tenants Council website- some great information on disability income and renting.

Priced Out in 2010 is a study of the severe housing affordability problems of people with disabilities. The study compares the federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments of people with significant and long-term disabilities to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Fair Market Rents for modestly priced rental units.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Arboleda Apartments

Check out our new video about Arboleda Apartments

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Why are Apartment Locators and Apartment Finders Free?

So I get this question a lot: How can apartment locators work for free? Technically we don’t work for “free” (yes, we have to eat too :-), it’s more like “free to you, the client”. We provide a very valuable service for both the renter and the apartment, a service that apartments are willing to compensate us for. And here’s why...

Apartment communities have a marketing budget every month. They can spend it on newspaper, online or TV ads, all of which are considered to be blind marketing. “Blind” marketing tends to bring in a whole bunch of prospective tenants who may or may not be qualified for the specific community. Identifying which tenants are truly prospective renters for your particular property is a very time consuming (and therefor expensive) process for leasing agents.

This is where apartment locators or apartment finders come in. Work hard to keep our clients from waste ANY money on application fees at apartments they won’t qualify for. So in addition to qualifying the apartment community for our clients needs, we make every attempt to prequalify our clients for the prospective apartment based on the information the client gives us.

When reputable apartment locators and apartment finders bring their clients to a community, the leasing agent knows that the client meets the minimum qualifications, and can focus on the showing them the property. It is a win-win for the renter and the apartment because neither has to waste time or money on an apartment showing that has no chance of working out.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy July 4th!

To honor our countries Independence Day, today's blog will not be about apartments. Instead, check out these fun facts about your country from the US Census Bureau.

On this day in 1776, the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress, setting the 13 colonies on the road to freedom as a sovereign nation. As always, this most American of holidays will be marked by parades, fireworks and backyard barbecues across the country.

2.5 million

In July 1776, the estimated number of people living in the newly independent nation.
Source: Historical Statistics of the United States: Colonial Times to 1970

311.7 million

The nation's estimated population on this July Fourth.
Source: Population clock <>


$3.2 million

In 2010, the dollar value of U.S. imports of American flags. The vast majority of this amount ($2.8 million) was for U.S. flags made in China.
Source: Foreign Trade Statistics <>


Dollar value of U.S. flags exported in 2010. Mexico was the leading customer, purchasing $256,407 worth.
Source: Foreign Trade Statistics <>

$302.7 million

Annual dollar value of shipments of fabricated flags, banners and similar emblems by the nation's manufacturers, according to the latest published economic census data.
Source: 2007 Economic Census, Series EC0731SP1, Products and Services Code 3149998231


$190.7 million

The value of fireworks imported from China in 2010, representing the bulk of all U.S. fireworks imported ($197.3 million). U.S. exports of fireworks, by comparison, came to just $37.0 million in 2010, with Japan purchasing more than any other country ($6.3 million).
Source: Foreign Trade Statistics <>

$231.8 million

The value of U.S. manufacturers' shipments of fireworks and pyrotechnics (including flares, igniters, etc.) in 2007.
Source: 2007 Economic Census, Series EC0731SP1, Products and Services Code 325998J108

Patriotic-Sounding Place Names

Thirty-one places have “liberty” in their names. The most populous one as of April 1, 2010, is Liberty, Mo. (29,149) Iowa, with four, has more of these places than any other state: Libertyville, New Liberty, North Liberty and West Liberty.

Thirty-five places have “eagle” in their names. The most populous one is Eagle Pass, Texas (26,248).

Eleven places have “independence” in their names. The most populous one is Independence, Mo. (116,830).

Nine places have “freedom” in their names. The most populous one is New Freedom, Pa. (4,464).

One place with “patriot” in the name. Patriot, Ind. (209).

Five places have “America” in their names. The most populous is American Fork, Utah (26,263).

Source: American FactFinder <>

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Housing Rights-Repairs

From the Spring 2011 Austin Tenants' Council Newsletter:

No one wants to deal with repair issues, especially not after a move. Unfortunately, in the first month at his new apartment, Tyrone Branch faced a number of problems including a roach infestation, malfunctioning electric outlets and bathroom vent, and cabinets with rotted wood.
When he could not get the manager to respond to his repair requests, Branch contacted ATC. Housing specialist Linda Aleman met with Branch at his apartment and documented the conditions. Funded by the City of Austin NHCD, the Renters’ Rights Assistance Program, helps low-income renters enforce their rights for repairs through advocacy and mediation.
After receiving Aleman’s letter, the manager promised to make the repairs but wanted to charge Branch for pest control. Aleman advocated for Branch, advising the manager that because the roach infestation was an existing problem when Branch moved in, the cost to exterminate was the landlord’s responsibility.
“I cannot thank ATC enough,” Branch says. “Everything on my list was fixed.”
Rental repair assistance is a free service available to Austin residents who do not exceed income guidelines. Call 474-1961 for an initial phone interview.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Rental Rates

Many clients wonder what the cost of apartments will be. The Texas Apartment Association has a great explaination.

The real estate adage that the three most important things about a property are "location, location, location" applies to rental properties as well.
Local rents usually take into consideration:
the cost of living in the community
the cost of doing business in the community (taxes, utility costs, impact fees, inspection fees or permits, etc.)
the cost of building and financing the property
the cost of operating the property (staff costs, maintenance, improvements, etc.)
what comparable properties are renting for
what features and amenities are offered to all residents at the property
the size and particular features and amenities of the actual apartment
There are no rent control laws in Texas. That means property owners are free to set their own rental rates, and you are free to accept them or look for a better deal at another property that meets your needs.
Know your budget, and don't look at properties you can't afford. If you've identified properties you're interested in, ask for the properties' rental criteria to find out if they are in your price range.
Rent will be a big part of your budget, but it's not the only expense you'll have associated with your cost of housing. Make sure you also plan for other expenses.
Your budget will also need to consider:
Routine expenses
Moving expenses
Furnishings and household necessities

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Club Creek

Check out our new video about Club Creek Apartments!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Reducing Electricity Usage

It goes without saying that Texas is HOT in the summer. We can all make small changes that can dramatically decrease the amount of energy we consume, thereby reducing our electric bills. The Austin Energy website provides some great advice to avoid wasting electricity.

* Keep lights off whenever possible. The standard light bulb gives off 90% heat and 10% light -- heat that makes your air conditioner run more. Switch to CFLs which give off 10% heat, 90% light and use up to 75% less power than incandescents.
* Keeps curtains and blinds drawn on windows hit be direct sunlight. Direct sunlight shinning into a room can raise temperatures 5 degrees or more very quickly.
* Set your AC thermostat at 78 degrees or higher when possible. Every degree higher can save up to $90 a summer. Use a programmable thermostat to raise the temperature when you are gone and cool down your house before you return.
* Wash and dry clothes, iron and cook in the morning or later in the evening. Microwave ovens produce much less heat than stoves for cooking.
* Washing clothes in cold water rather than hot can save as much as $100 a year or more in energy use.
* Replace old refrigerators. They use about twice the energy as newer models. Refrigerators located in the garage use even more.
* Setting your water heater temperature lower than 120 degrees will save about $45 a year on average.
* Unplug cell phone chargers, microwaves, TVs, computers and other electrical devices which are using power even when turned off. Phantom power use can account for as much as 10% of home energy use.
* When possible, reduce the number of times you come in and out of entry doors, which brings in hot air and lets cool air out.
* Fans blowing directly on you will make you feel 2-4 degrees cooler.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Renting with Roommates

Renting with roommates can be good and bad. Open communication and mutual understanding can keep the relationship and situation positive. The Texas Apartment Association offers this advice.

  • If you'll be sharing the rent with a roommate, make sure you both understand your responsibilities.
  • If you both sign the lease, each of you will be responsible for the full amount of the rent if the other does not pay.
  • If your roommate moves out before the end of the lease, you'll still be responsible for all the rent.
  • If you need to find another roommate to help with expenses, your new roommate will need to be approved by the property owner, and you may need to sign a new lease or a lease addendum.
  • An unauthorized occupant is not considered a roommate and is not responsible for fulfilling the terms of the lease. If you move, any unauthorized occupant is not responsible for the remaining lease term and you, alone, will be required to fulfill any terms required by the owner in relinquishing your occupancy of the unit prior to the end of the lease term.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

KXAN story- High Water Bill

With the drought lately, any story about rising water bills catches my eye. Recently read this interesting story about a steeply climbing water bill for a resident in a 1-bedroom apartment. Glad he was able to get the issue resolved! Click here for the full story.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Discrimination in Housing

What does discrimination mean in housing? The Fair Housing Council of Greater San Antonio has defined discriminatory housing practices as follows.

The Fair Housing Act provides that in the rental and sale of most housing, it is unlawful for any housing provider to take any of the following actions against a person because of his or her race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and/or handicap:

  • Refuse to rent or sell housing
  • Refuse to negotiate for housing
  • Impose different sale prices or rental charges for a dwelling
  • Evict tenants because of their race or the race of their guests
  • Otherwise make housing unavailable or deny housing
  • Set different terms, conditions, or privileges for the rental or sale of a dwelling (example: a landlord cannot demand an additional security deposit because you are disabled or have children)
  • Deny or limit services because a tenant refused to provide sexual favors
  • Delay or fail to perform maintenance or repairs to dwelling units
  • Falsely deny that housing is available for inspection, sale, or rental
  • Advertise or make any statement with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination (example: a landlord cannot post an advertisement that states, “Two bedroom, two bath for rent, $600 a month, NO KIDS, ADULTS ONLY”)
  • Assign any person to a particular section of a complex or neighborhood or to a particular floor of a building
  • Discourage the purchase or rental of a dwelling by exaggerating drawbacks or failing to inform any person of desirable features of a dwelling, community, neighborhood, or development
  • Communicate to any prospective resident that he or she would not be comfortable with existing residents of a community, neighborhood, or development
  • Threaten, coerce, or intimidate anyone for exercising his/her fair housing rights or for assisting others in exercising their rights

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Age Discrimination

Can an apartment community discriminate based on age?

The short answer is yes. Although there are a few legal exceptions, typically 18 is the minimum age to legally sign a contract, and yes a lease is a contract. In additional some communities are considered ‘senior living communities’ and restrict those under the age 55. Some good examples of Austin senior living communities include:

Bluffs Landing in Round Rock

Lodge at Merilltown in Wells Branch has a 60 and over community

Sun City in Georgetown is a purchase senior living community

Typically, if a community has age restrictions, they abide by them very strictly, meaning that none of the residents in the home (not just those paying rent) can be under the age requirements. Violating this may result in an eviction or a forced sale of your home.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Affordable Rent

So you've decided on a great place that you want to live, but how do you decide how much you can afford in rent? How do you know you are getting the amenities you want, and still paying an amount you can spend each month on housing? Well, there are several great tools we provide that can help you decide what is right for you.

Using our rent calculator, you can plug in your budget and income, and get how much you can afford.

Reality Times has an article that is fantastic for understanding not only what you can afford in rent, but also gives you what to expect to pay for moving costs, deposits, etc. A great read!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Utility Costs

When renting, it is important to find out if any utilities are included in rent at no extra cost to you. Some complexes can include gas, water, cable, internet, etc. The Texas Apartment Association has this valuable information.

* When you are comparing apartments, ask which, if any, utilities are included.
* You'll almost certainly be paying for electricity and gas, if applicable.
* Paying for water and wastewater, and even trash collection, is becoming more common.
* You'll pay for any cable and phone service you use, as well.
* Most utilities charge on consumption--the more you use, the more you pay.
* In some parts of the state, you may have more than one choice when it comes to your electric provider. Check out the Texas Electric Choice Education Program website for more information on electrical providers in your area at

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Fair Housing San Antonio

The Fair Housing Council of Greater San Antonio is a non profit organization designed to promote fair housing and eliminate housing discrimination. They classify discrimination as follows.

Discriminatory Housing Practices

The Fair Housing Act provides that in the rental and sale of most housing, it is unlawful for any housing provider to take any of the following actions against a person because of his or her race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and/or handicap:

  • Refuse to rent or sell housing
  • Refuse to negotiate for housing
  • Impose different sale prices or rental charges for a dwelling
  • Evict tenants because of their race or the race of their guests
  • Otherwise make housing unavailable or deny housing
  • Set different terms, conditions, or privileges for the rental or sale of a dwelling (example: a landlord cannot demand an additional security deposit because you are disabled or have children)
  • Deny or limit services because a tenant refused to provide sexual favors
  • Delay or fail to perform maintenance or repairs to dwelling units
  • Falsely deny that housing is available for inspection, sale, or rental
  • Advertise or make any statement with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination (example: a landlord cannot post an advertisement that states, “Two bedroom, two bath for rent, $600 a month, NO KIDS, ADULTS ONLY”)
  • Assign any person to a particular section of a complex or neighborhood or to a particular floor of a building
  • Discourage the purchase or rental of a dwelling by exaggerating drawbacks or failing to inform any person of desirable features of a dwelling, community, neighborhood, or development
  • Communicate to any prospective resident that he or she would not be comfortable with existing residents of a community, neighborhood, or development
  • Threaten, coerce, or intimidate anyone for exercising his/her fair housing rights or for assisting others in exercising their rights

Finding the Perfect Fit

How do you know an apartment is right for you? Using us as locator is of course the best way! We ask you questions about your job, school district and activities to help determine the best location. We consider your family, your lifestyle, and your expectations to evaluate the complex that best suits your personal needs. All in all, we have the knowledge to find the best fit for you in an apartment complex.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Right Apartment

As an apartment locating company, we can find you the best place to live for your budget, lifestyle, and family. We ask questions about your job, school districts, activities, your desired commute, if you like city vs suburb living. So contact us when you are looking for a great place to live, we can find it!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Having Problems with Your Apartment

No one likes to have trouble with their home, but occasionally some do occur. On the Texas Attorney General's website, we found a great resource that explains the process you should follow if you are having a problem with your landlord or apartment, below is an excerpt.

If You Have Problems

If the landlord won't make repairs needed to protect your health, safety, or security, and you follow the procedures required by law, you may be entitled to:

  • End the lease;
  • Have the problem repaired and deduct the cost of the repair from the rent; or
  • File suit to force the landlord to make the repairs.

You MUST Follow These Steps:

  1. Send the landlord a dated letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, or by registered mail, outlining the needed repairs. You may also deliver the letter in person. Keep a copy of the letter. Be sure that your rent is current when the notice is received.
  2. Your landlord should make a diligent effort to repair the problem within a reasonable time after receipt of the notice. The law presumes seven days to be a reasonable time, but the landlord can rebut this presumption. If the landlord has not made a diligent effort to complete the repair within seven days and you did not have the first notice letter delivered to your landlord via certified mail, return receipt requested, or via registered mail, you will need to send a second notice letter regarding the needed repairs.
  3. If the landlord still has not made diligent efforts to repair the problem within a reasonable time after receipt of the notice letter sent by certified mail, return receipt requested or by registered mail, you may be entitled to terminate the lease, repair the problem and deduct the cost from your rent, or get a court to order that the repairs be made. You should consult with an attorney before taking any of these actions.

Under Texas law, it is illegal for a landlord to retaliate against you for complaining in good faith about necessary repairs for a period of six months from the date you made such a complaint. Of course, you can always be evicted if you fail to pay your rent on time, threaten the safety of the landlord or intentionally damage the property.

You do not have a right to withhold rent because the landlord fails to make repairs when the condition needing repair does not materially affect your health and safety. If you try this method, the landlord may file suit against you.

Recovering Your Deposit. Most landlords require you to pay a security deposit to cover any repairs needed when you move out or to cover your failure to pay the last month's rent. By law, landlords cannot refuse to return the deposit without a valid reason.

Deductions for damages. Under Texas law, you must give the landlord a forwarding address and the landlord must return the deposit — less any amount deducted for damages — within 30 days. If the landlord withholds part or all of your deposit, he or she must give you an itemized list of deductions with a description of the damages.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

When to Start the Search for an Apartment

When should someone start looking for a new apartment? 30 to 45 days before move in seems to be a good number in this market. Properties are experiencing above average occupancy rates right now. Waiting too long may limit your choices. The most effective way to find an apartment on your own time line is to use our apartment locating services. We can find what you need, when you need it.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Affordable Rent for Your Budget

How much rent can you afford? A great resource is our rent calculator found on our website.

Another helpful article is found on the Austin Tenants' Council website-

After determining how many roommates there will be, consider how much rent each person can afford. Generally, 30 percent of a person’s income is considered an affordable housing cost. Other expenses such as utility bills, phone bills, and cable TV bills should be included in calculating what can be afforded. There are many up-front costs when renting such as security deposits, pet deposits, utility deposits, and installation charges. Except in an “all bills paid” unit, these items are extra.

Ensuring that all roommates can afford to pay the rent and other expenses is the best way to avoid problems. Careful preparation and assessment of financial resources will prevent any roommates from getting in over his head and jeopardizing the other roommates’ credit and rental histories.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Rental and apartment maintenance: How does it work?

In renting, there are two types of maintenance, emergency and non-emergency and apartments and other rentals handle them differently.

Typically emergency maintenance includes power outages, water breakages and air conditioning (heating and cooling) issues that make conditions within the apartment unlivable. Exceptions might include two toilets, with one stopped up but not overflowing. That is not considered a maintenance emergency, just a smelly problem. Emergency cases are typically responded to within 24 hours, although some properties only guarantee 48 hour responses.

Things that might fall under non-emergency would be a light bulb out, a faucet dripping. Only certain appliances fall under an emergency, and it is very property specific. Commonly a refrigerator could fall under the emergency category, but a stove most likely will not. A dishwasher, probably won’t unless it is leaking. Response to non-emergency cases varies by property, but usually occurs within three business days (weekends NOT included).

At Individually owned properties like duplexes or single family homes, response times vary greatly and usually depend on the owner locating a contractor they are willing to work with for that specific problem. For example, AC people in summer are hard to find.

Professionally managed properties, like apartment complexes, have their own set of certified maintenance crews, so response times are much more reliable. A professionally managed property will provide you with a lease agreement that spells out what constitutes a maintenance emergency, non-emergency, and response times for each.

Have more questions about rental maintenance? Not happy with your current set up? Call me! The apartment finders in our office have long-standing relationships with most of the Austin apartment managers. We won’t steer you wrong!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Your Credit Rights in the State of Texas

When renting an apartment, the landlord requests your credit report. Understanding what that entails can be tough. The Austin Tenants' Council printed the following article that will help you understand what credit is and why it is important.

The credit reporting industry is complicated and can be difficult to understand. Many businesses, including the housing industry, use information found on credit reports. Landlords use credit information most often in the application process to decide whether to lease a property to a tenant. Landlords may report unpaid debts, such as if a tenant breaks a lease and leaves owing money, to credit bureaus. The landlord may also report money owed for property damages. It is legal for landlords to use credit information for these purposes, but there are laws governing credit reporting. This brochure attempts to explain the basics of credit reporting so that a tenant will know what rights are provided by the Fair Credit Reporting Act and other laws and how to enforce those rights.

Credit Reports
Credit bureaus, also called credit reporting agencies, gather information about people’s credit history and then sell that information to many different businesses. The major credit bureaus are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Credit information is used by banks, finance companies, insurance companies, employers, merchants, and, of course, landlords. Different businesses use credit information for different purposes. Banks, for instance, want to know if a person will repay a loan, while insurance companies use credit information to determine whether to issue a policy, and even how much that policy will cost. Landlords, on the other hand, want to know how a tenant has handled credit in the past to see if the tenant is a “good” credit risk. They are trying to find a responsible tenant who will pay the rent and fulfill the lease contract.

Three basic types of information are collected by credit bureaus: personal statistics, account information, and legal records. Personal statistics include name, address (past and present), Social Security number, and employment information. When changes of address and employment are listed on a credit application or given to a creditor, this information is reported to credit bureaus.

Account information is the heart of the credit record. It lists debts and how those debts are being paid. Account information covers accounts currently being paid, accounts that have gone to collection, and any charges being disputed.

Credit records are not limited to debt information. They may include legal records of judgments, tax liens, marriages, divorces, arrests, convictions, and other public records. Credit records may seem comprehensive, almost frighteningly so. However, credit records do not necessarily contain all credit information.

Large corporations such as national department stores and banks, along with major credit card companies like MasterCard, Visa, and American Express report information on a regular basis. Smaller creditors such as furniture stores, auto dealers, and gasoline stations may report credit information only if the account becomes past due. This is also true for most management companies and landlords. Therefore, neither all bad credit nor all good credit will necessarily be on a person’s credit record. Furthermore, credit records are not always correct.

Checking Your Credit Record
A tenant is entitled and encouraged to check the information listed at the various credit bureaus to make sure this information is correct. Each credit bureau may have different information listed on its report so it is wise to request a copy of your credit record from each bureau. Visit to request a free credit report once every 12 months from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

Mistakes are often made and will not be corrected unless the consumer discovers the errors and follows the necessary procedures to remove them. If a person is denied credit or denied an apartment because of information supplied by a credit bureau, the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the creditor (i.e. the landlord) to give the name and address of the credit bureau that supplied the information. If a consumer contacts the credit bureau within 60 days of the denial and requests a copy of the credit information, the credit bureau must supply this information free of charge.

If a consumer has not been recently denied credit or is unaware of any inaccurate information on his credit record, then the credit bureau may charge a fee, not to exceed $8, for the information. The credit bureau is required to disclose all information found in a consumer’s file, except for the person’s overall credit score, risk score, or predictors. Creditors use these evaluations of a credit record as an easy tool to interpret the credit risk of an individual. The credit bureau must enclose with every request a “Summary of Rights” and a comprehensive statement of consumer rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Correcting Inaccurate Credit Information
If inaccurate information is found on a consumer’s credit record, that person has the right to have that information investigated free of charge. The first step is to dispute the debt by sending evidence that the debt in question is incorrect. Once inaccurate information is disputed both the credit bureau and the creditor have 30 days to investigate the debt. However, the deadline is extended to 45 days if the consumer provides additional relevant information after the initial notice of dispute. Once the investigation is complete, the credit bureau must notify a consumer within five days of the results. Any inaccuracies must be corrected if the debt is to remain. The bureau must also provide the following information in writing:

  1. A statement that the investigation is complete;
  2. A revised consumer report;
  3. Notification that a description of the investigation procedures the bureau used will be supplied within 15 days if it is requested. This information includes the name, address, and telephone number of the creditor who furnished the information;
  4. Notification of the right to add a statement disputing the debt to the file; and
  5. Notification that the consumer can require the credit bureau to notify previous users of disputed information.

If the credit bureau investigates the dispute but concludes that the information is correct, the debt will remain on the credit record. But, the debt claim can still be fought. A brief written statement — not to exceed 100 words — explaining why the debt is disputed can be filed with the credit bureau. The credit bureau must include this statement whenever it releases the credit record. Creditors and landlords will then know that this is not just a debt that has not been paid, but a debt that may not be valid.

If a creditor tries to reinsert deleted information, it must certify to the credit bureau that the information is complete and accurate. If that information is reinserted, the bureau must notify the consumer, in writing, within five business days:

  1. That the disputed information has been reinserted;
  2. Of the name, address, and phone number of the furnisher of the information (if reasonably available);
  3. That the consumer has the right to add a statement to the file about the disputed information; and
  4. The consumer’s right to require the bureau to notify previous users of disputed information.

A credit bureau may stop an investigation if it finds the consumer’s dispute to be frivolous or irrelevant, including a lack of sufficient information in the request. That bureau is required to notify the consumer of its decision to and the reason for the termination of an investigation.

Violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act by a credit bureau can result in it being held liable for any actual financial losses that result from the violation, punitive damages if imposed by a court, and reasonable court costs and attorney’s fees. Furthermore, the creditor can also be held liable for failing to participate in the resolution of a disputed debt.

How Long Will Bad Debts Be on a Credit Record?
Most negative information, disputed or not, will not remain on a credit record forever. The Fair Credit Reporting Act says that a credit bureau can report negative information for only seven years in most cases. However, the seven years begins from either the date of the last regularly scheduled payment or 180 days from the date of the delinquency if it is placed for collection, charged to profit, or other similar actions. Not all debts are subject to the seven-year rule. Bankruptcies, for instance, can be reported for 10 years, and tax liens can remain for seven years after the date they are paid. Furthermore, if you apply for more than $150,000 of credit; apply for a job paying $75,000 or more; or apply for a life insurance policy with a face value of $150,000 or more, negative credit information can be reported indefinitely.

There is no magical way to remove negative information from a credit record if the information is correct. Anyone who advertises that he can clean credit records can do nothing more than individuals can do for themselves. Some “credit repair” companies or “credit clinics” use the Fair Credit Reporting Act to remove legitimate debts from a credit record. Usually this is accomplished by sending multiple requests for verification of a debt, and if the credit bureau does not verify the debt within a reasonable amount of time, it must be removed. However, the credit bureau can reinstate that debt if it can be verified later.

The only way to get a legitimate debt off of a credit record is to convince the creditor to remove it. This can sometimes be accomplished by working out a payment plan so that as long as payments are being made on the debt, it will not be reported. Another solution is to negotiate a lump sum payment that may be less than the original amount. Old debts are generally worth less to the creditor than recent ones. The creditor may feel that getting something is better than nothing and will settle for less. If any agreements are made, they should be made in writing and signed before any payments are made. Otherwise, the creditor can simply apply the amount paid to the debt and continue to report it. A tenant may want to contact legitimate credit assistance agencies, such as Consumer Credit Counseling, to assist in the process of “repairing” bad credit.

Debt Collection
Sometimes negotiation does not work, and the creditor demands the debt be paid. Besides reporting the debt to credit bureaus, creditors can also contact the debtor (the one who OWES) directly, file suit against the debtor, and/or engage a collection agency to collect the debt. Bill collectors may begin contacting the debtor by mail and by phone. While tenants have the legal obligation to repay creditors, they also have protection against certain undesirable collection practices. The Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires that a collection agency, not the creditor, cease all collection contacts if requested to do so in writing by the debtor. A debtor does not lose this protection no matter how delinquent the bills.

There is also a Texas Debt Collection Law. The following are just some of the practices that the Texas Debt Collection Act makes illegal.

Threats or Coercion

  • A creditor uses or threatens to use violence or other criminal means against you or your property to collect a debt.
  • A creditor contacts a third person, such as your employer or a relative and tells him that you are refusing to pay a non-disputed debt, when in reality the debt is disputed and you have notified the creditor in writing of the dispute.
  • A creditor threatens that he can have you arrested without proper court proceedings for failure to pay a debt.
  • A creditor tells you that he will file criminal charges against you, when in fact, you have not violated any criminal law.
  • A creditor falsely threatens that after your account is assigned to a collection company, you will no longer be protected by the law and will no longer have a legal defense to the claim.

Harassment or Abuse

  • Using profane or obscene language or language that is intended to unreasonably abuse the hearer or the reader.
  • Placing telephone calls without disclosing who is making the call and with a willful intent to harass a person at the called number.
  • Causing a telephone to ring repeatedly or continuously or making repeated and continuous telephone calls with the willful intent to harass any person at the called number.
  • Causing expense to any person in the form of long distance charges for any telephone calls without first disclosing the name of the person making the call.

Unfair or Unconscionable Means

  • No debt collector may collect or attempt to collect any interest, fee, charge, or expense unless such additional payment is authorized in a prior agreement signed by the debtor.

Fraudulent, Deceptive, or Misleading Representation

  • Using any name other than the true business name of the debt collector.
  • Falsely representing that the debt collector has something of value for the consumer to solicit or discover information about the consumer.
  • Misrepresenting the character, extent, or the amount of a debt or misrepresenting its status in any judicial or governmental proceeding.
  • Using a written communication that simulates or falsely represents to be a document authorized, issued, or approved by a court, an official, or a government agency.
  • Using any communication which purports to be from any attorney or law firm, when, in fact, it is not.

Deceptive Use of Credit Bureau Name

  • No person may claim to be functioning as a credit bureau or retail merchants association unless that person is in fact engaged in gathering, recording, and disseminating BOTH favorable and unfavorable credit or financial information to prospective creditors for use in the decision making process regarding the extension of credit.

Violation of any of the provisions of the Texas Debt Collection Act is a misdemeanor. Such a misdemeanor charge must be filed within one year of the alleged violation.

Any person may seek relief for actual damages or to prevent or restrain a violation of the act. If the person who brings the suit wins, that person will also be awarded reasonable attorney’s fees. However, if the court finds a claim was brought for harassment or in bad faith, the defendant shall be awarded reasonable attorney’s fees.

A violation of the Texas Debt Collection Act is also a deceptive trade practice and is actionable under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act as well as the Texas Debt Collection Act.

Seeking Enforcement
If you believe you have been the victim of an unfair debt collection practice, you may file a civil suit in court, which usually requires representation by an attorney, or may file a complaint with the Consumer Protection Division of the Texas Attorney General’s Office. Once the complaint form and its attachments — or supporting evidence, such as contracts, letters, checks, and receipts — are received in duplicate, the complaint will be reviewed. Never send originals. You should always send copies, keeping the originals for your own files.

First, the Texas Attorney General’s Office (AG) determines if it has jurisdiction to process the complaint. If it does not, the complainant will be referred to the proper agency. If the AG decides to investigate the complaint, it will be done for free. Predicting how long this process will take is impossible. Much depends upon the size of the AG’s current caseload. However, the first step — filing a complaint — is the most important. The AG often looks for a pattern of violations. If no one ever files, it is certain that nothing will be done.

When making the written complaint, be thorough, accurate, and concise. A copy of the completed complaint form will be sent to the person or firm against whom the complaint is filed. The complaint form provides an area where the consumer can describe what he feels would be a reasonable and fair solution to the problem. Give this issue some careful thought. The claim may be mediated and a settlement may be offered based on these suggestions.

The information in this brochure is a summary of the subject and other pertinent matters. It should not be considered conclusive or a substitute for legal advice. Unique facts can render broad statements inapplicable. Anyone needing legal assistance should contact an attorney

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fact Vs. Fiction

The following is from the Austin Tenants' Council brochure covering Myths of Renting.

Tenants and landlords often make decisions based on long-standing assumptions which often turn out to be inaccurate. The results can be costly. The following information is provided to demonstrate the importance of getting accurate information before making decisions about rental housing in Austin and in Texas. The information is general in nature and should not be considered complete or a substitute for legal advice.

For tenants to protect their rights as much as possible, the Austin Tenants’ Council recommends the following procedures in making decisions concerning leases and rental properties:

1. Before signing a lease always READ THE LEASE CAREFULLY and assume that you are liable for all terms of the lease unless you agree otherwise IN WRITING. Verbal agreements are usually not enforceable, and most leases say that verbal agreements will not change the written lease. Get all agreements in writing and have both parties sign it. Someone who won’t sign a written agreement possibly has no intention of keeping it.
2. To clarify specific points and procedures that may be covered in the Texas Property Code, call the Austin Tenants’ Council or seek legal advice before taking any action.

Myths About Leasing
Myth: A landlord or manager must return a deposit to hold an apartment if the tenant decides not to take it.
Truth: Many application agreements allow the landlord to keep the entire deposit if the tenant is approved and then the tenant decides not to sign the lease. Even if there is no written agreement about the deposit, the landlord or manager may be entitled to reimbursement for expenses after taking the property off the market, including advertising and lost rent.

Myth: A tenant has three days after signing a lease to cancel it without penalty sometimes called “buyer’s remorse.”
Truth: Texas has no “buyer’s remorse” law for leases. A lease becomes binding as soon as it is signed.

Myth: A tenant can move out if the landlord fails to meet one or more obligations outlined in the lease.
Truth: Generally, the lease remains in force and the tenant continues to be liable under the terms of the lease agreement until a court rules otherwise.

Myth: There is a limitation on the amount the rent can be raised at the end of the lease.
Truth: Texas has no “rent control” laws that limit the amount of rent increases.

Myth: A signed lease is not valid until a deposit is paid or until the tenant moves into the property.
Truth: Even if the landlord never receives rent and the tenant never moves in, the tenant is liable under the lease once it is signed.

Myths About Repairs
Myth: A tenant may withhold rent if the landlord fails to make repairs.
Truth: A tenant’s withholding of rent is seen as retaliation, and the tenant risks eviction and may forfeit certain rights under the law.

Myth: A tenant may simply break the lease without liability if the landlord fails to make any repair within the time specified in the lease.
Truth: State law outlines specific procedures that must be followed by a tenant requesting repairs before the tenant is able to terminate a lease for the landlord’s failure to make the repairs. Failure to follow these procedures may result in the tenant being liable to the landlord for damages.

Myth: The landlord must provide air conditioning equipment for the tenant.
Truth: If such equipment is not in the property when the tenant takes possession, the landlord is not required to provide it unless it is agreed between the parties beforehand, preferably in writing.

Myths About Eviction
Myth: The eviction process takes at least a month.
Truth: A tenant can be evicted in as little as two weeks.

Myth: A landlord may simply remove the tenant’s belongings in the event the tenant fails to vacate by the date specified by the landlord in the notice to vacate.
Truth: Landlords are not permitted by law to remove belongings from an apartment except in the case of abandonment or when exercising a landlord’s lien. Otherwise, a landlord may remove belongings only after an eviction judgment rendered by the justice of the peace court and then only under the supervision of the sheriff or constable.

Myth: The landlord must always give a 30-day notice to vacate the property before evicting the tenant.
Truth: The law requires 72 hours notice for eviction for breach of the lease, prior to the filing of an eviction lawsuit, unless the lease waives that right and provides for a different notice period such as 24 hours.

Myth: If the tenant has been late paying the rent, then the landlord cannot evict the tenant if the tenant later pays the rent in full.
Truth: In many cases, the landlord can proceed with eviction even if the rent is paid in full after the tenant falls behind in rent.

Myth: A landlord must evict noisy neighbors under a clause in the lease.
Truth: Although most leases include such a clause, it gives the landlord the right to evict but does not require eviction.

Myths About Terminating a Lease
Myth: The landlord must have a reason for not renewing a lease.
Truth: Either the landlord or tenant may terminate a lease at the end of the term without any reason, except in low-income housing tax credit properties. In these properties, the landlord must have good cause to terminate the lease. The landlord may not refuse to renew a lease in retaliation for the tenant having requested repairs within the previous six months or for reasons grounded in illegal discrimination. In the case of termination at the end of the lease, notice is for the same length of time as the rental payment period.

Myth: If a tenant breaks a lease, the tenant will only lose the deposit.
Truth: Whether it’s mentioned in the lease or not and unless the landlord agrees otherwise in writing, the tenant will be liable for any damages incurred by the landlord because of the tenant’s breach and for all the monthly payments during the term of the lease as long as the property is not re-rented.

Myth: A tenant may move out and break a lease if the tenant suffers losses or anguish due to lack of security, robberies, or break-ins.
Truth: Breaking a lease under these circumstances can be risky. The law requires landlords to provide locks for windows and doors. Although a tenant may terminate a lease if the landlord commits a substantial breach of the lease, the tenant runs the risk of a court holding that the breach was not so substantial as to justify termination by the tenant.

A tenant would also have grounds to move early if the landlord misrepresented security or crime and the tenant relied on the landlord’s representations in deciding to rent the unit. However, if the landlord sued the tenant for the breach of the lease, the tenant would have to prove that the landlord had misrepresented the property. If a court decided that the landlord had properly represented the property, the landlord might prevail.

Myths About Deposits
Myth: The landlord must put a security deposit into an escrow account which is transferred to a new owner if the property is sold.
Truth: No Texas law requires landlords to put deposit money into an escrow account, and there is no automatic transfer of security deposits to new owners. However, the landlord who purchases a property is still responsible for the return of the deposits to the tenants.

Myth: The tenant will automatically receive three times the security deposit amount plus $100 if the landlord fails to return the deposit exactly within 30 days.
Truth: While the law states a tenant may recover those amounts, a tenant will only receive more than the amount of the security deposit if a court finds the landlord acted in bad faith.

Other Myths
Myth: The landlord is responsible for repair or replacement of the tenant’s belongings in the event of damage by water, fire, smoke, tornado, etc.
Truth: Unless the landlord can be proven negligent in the situation or the lease says otherwise, the landlord is not responsible for costs related to repair or replacement of damaged items. Tenants may want to purchase renters’ insurance for personal belongings.

Myth: If a tenant is behind in rent, the landlord may not confiscate items in the tenant’s apartment until the landlord files for an eviction or goes to court.
Truth: If the tenant’s lease includes a provision for a landlord’s lien or a contractual lien and the provision is either underlined or in conspicuous bold print, then the landlord has the right to enter the tenant’s residence (unless the tenant refuses entry) and remove nonexempt items (for example TV, stereo, VCR) that the tenant owns at any time after the tenant falls behind in rent.

The landlord of an apartment complex that receives housing tax credits is prohibited from liening a tenant’s property except by judicial process unless the tenant has abandoned the premises.

Myth: A landlord can lock a tenant out of an apartment until the tenant pays delinquent rent.
Truth: The landlord may change the lock on a tenant’s door if 1) the lease includes a written lockout provision and 2) after giving advance written notice. The landlord must give advance written notice at least three days prior to the lockout if the notice is hand-delivered or at least five days prior if the notice is sent by regular mail. After the lockout, the landlord must leave a note stating in either underlined or conspicuous bold print where and from whom the tenant may obtain a key at any hour and that the tenant is entitled to a new key regardless of whether the delinquent rent is paid or not.

The landlord of an apartment complex that receives housing tax credits is prohibited from locking out or threatening to lock out a tenant.

Myth: The landlord has no right to enter the tenant’s apartment at any time without the tenant’s permission.
Truth: Most leases make provision for the landlord to enter an apartment without express permission of the tenant. The landlord may enter, however, only in accordance with the terms of the lease.

The information in this brochure is a summary of the subject and other pertinent matters. It should not be considered conclusive or a substitute for legal advice. Unique facts can render broad statements inapplicable. Anyone needing legal assistance should contact an attorney.