Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sure Deposit

A Sure Deposit is different from a traditional deposit.  In a traditional deposit, you pay a certain amount, set by the apartment complex, based on the size of your apartment.  For example, let's say you pay $200 for a one bedroom, $500 for a two bedroom, etc.  But what happens if you don't have enough money saved up to pay that deposit?  That's where Sure Deposit comes in.  

In today's economy, many people don't have the savings to pay for a deposit on a new apartment.  With a Sure Deposit, you pay a fee to the company Sure Deposit, $87.50 for a one bedroom, $131.25 for a two bedroom, etc.  At the end of the lease, you do not get that fee back, but if you know that you are going to leave that apartment in the best possible condition, just like you found it, then the Sure Deposit is a great option for you.

You will write a check out to Sure Deposit, Inc. for the fee and then at the end of your lease term, if your apartment is in tip top shape, everything is fine.  But if you do leave that apartment damaged or you incur any type of penalty from the apartment complex, the Sure Deposit is going to pay the apartment community for up to $500 for those damages, but they're still going to come after you for the payment for those damages.

So this option might be really good for those who can take impeccable care of their apartment, but would not be the best option for someone who thinks they might have any damages at the end of the lease term.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Allandale is a charming North Austin neighborhood that is east of Mopac, west of Burnet Road, north of 45th street and south of West Anderson Lane.  A mix of single family homes and apartments, this area is a tight-knit community with a lot of neighborhood pride.

Rents for apartments in the area range from $821 for a one bedroom, one bathroom with 650 square feet to $1200 for a 2 bedroom, one bathroom 789 square foot condo.  Prices depend on the age of the apartment community and amenties offered at the complex.

The area has great schools.  The elementary is the exemplary rated Gullett Elementary, the middle school is Lamar, which is a fine arts academy, and the high school is McCallum, which is AISD's Fine Arts Academy.  Students from across the district come to McCallum's magnet program to study music, dance, theatre, and visual arts.

There are lots of fun things to do in Allandale from an almost endless variety of restaurants to shopping to entertainment.  
Fonda San Miguel on North Loop is famous for its brunch and other tasty high-end Mexican dishes, as well as its romantic, low-lit interior.  You might want to save up for your trip, though, this is high end Mexican food with the price tag to match.

Another Austin institution is Top Notch on Burnet Road.  This unique burger joint has been serving up straight forward delicious fries, onion rings and, of course, hamburgers since 1971.  

If movies are more your speed, Alamo Drafthouse's Village location on Anderson Lane is a great place to catch a new release while sipping a brew and eating.  They also have all sorts of fun special events like Sing-alongs and remounts of your favorite childhood flicks.

Want to shop til you drop?  Allandale is home to a plethora of unique, locally owned shops like Sandy's Shoes on Anderson.  Sandy's Shoes is THE place to get kids shoes and are well-known locally for their sales people's almost magical ability to get kids to sit still while their feet are measured and put into a new pair of kicks.  Plus, mom can snag a pair for herself as well!

Dragon's Lair Comics and Fantasy on Burnet is THE place to geek out and find everything from rare comic books to the 12-sided die that will make you the envy of all your friends at D&D night.

Ready to leave Allandale and explore further afield?  Well this neighborhood's convenient location puts you on 183, Mopac or North Lamar in minutes, ready to head into town or the burbs for work or play.

Welcome home to Allandale!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Age Discrimination in Rentals

Is it legal to be discriminated against based on your age when renting an apartment?  It's a question we get all the time.  The short answer is yes, you can be discriminated against based on age.  Read on for what exactly that means for you and what apartments have age restrictions.

With the exception of a few legal issues, you must be at least eighteen years old in the state of Texas to get a lease for yourself and move into an apartment community.  So there's obviously a minimum age to rent an apartment.  On the other side, there are also communities at which you must have reached a certain age to live there.

There are Senior Living Communities that only allow residents who are over 55 or 60 years of age, depending on the community.  These communities are called Assisted Living Communities and have very strict guidelines for what age of people can live in their complex.  

These communities are aimed at senior adults who do not need around the clock care, so they can live on their own, but they do need some limited amounts of help.  Examples of help one might need are that they may not be able to drive or otherwise get to where they need, so they need transportation.  Or someone might not be able to prepare their own meals and would need assistance with that.  These are the types of help that assisted living communities can provide.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Landlord's Lien

A Landlord's Lien, outlined in Texas Property Code, is when a landlord takes belongings from a tenant's apartment as payment for rent owed.  The landlord's lien clause must be written in the lease, in bold print or underlined, to be legal.  The belongings have to be in either the tenant's residence or in a storage room, including an attached garage or shed, for the landlord to take it.  The Austin Tenant's Council outlines the complex laws in Texas governing a Landlord's Lien.

First, the landlord can only take the property when the tenant isn't at home.  After taking the items, they must leave a notice that they entered and an itemized list of everything they took in an obvious place inside the apartment.  The notice must include the amount of overdue rent and the name, address, and telephone number of the person the tenant should contact about the amount owed.  It also must say that that the belongings will be returned once rent is paid in full.  

There are certain things that a landlord cannot seize, which are exempted under Texas law.  Clothes, tools and books of a trade or profession, school books, a family library, family pictures, one couch, two living room chairs, and a dining table and chairs, beds and bedding, kitchen furniture, utensils, and appliances, food, medicine and medical supplies, one car and one truck, agricultural implements, children's toys, items the landlord knows are owned by a non-tenant, and items that the landlord knows are used for the tenant's work are all exempt from being seized.

Other items can be seized, and are on the "non-exempt" list.  If items are used for the tenant's work, they cannot be taken, even if they are listed on the seizeable list.  Tv's, stereos, cd players, vcrs, records, tapes, cds and videotapes, answering machines, telephones, sewing machines, calculators, books and paintings, all furniture except for the above-mentioned exempt pieces, personal computers, printers, and typewriters, musical instruments, cameras, radios, clocks and all sports equipment all can be seized under the law. 

The Tenant can get back their belongings at any time before the landlord sells it by paying all the delinquent rent owed.  If the landlord brings suit against the tenant for rent owed, the tenant can still recover their belongings before a judgement is rendered.  The tenant has to post a bond for the amount the court approves.  If the landlord wins the case, the judgement and court fees will be paid from the bond before any money is returned to the tenant.

The landlord can put the items up for sale, but only after they have given the tenant 30 days notice of the sale.  The notice must be mailed by certified mail, return receipt requested, and state the date, time and place of the sale, an itemized account of the money owed, and the name, address and phone number of the person the tenant can get in touch with about the sale.  

If the tenant doesn't pay the rent, then the landlord can sell the property to the highest bidder.  Any proceeds from the sale must be applied to the rent, then any sale costs.  Any money that remains has to be mailed to the tenant.  The tenant can request a written account of the proceeds by mailing a written request to the landlord via certified mail and the landlord must provide the account within 30 days.

If a tenant thinks the landlord violated the law when they seized their belongings, contact your local housing authority or an attorney for help recovering your property and/or sale proceeds.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Filing Suit in Small Claims Court

Taking someone to court is best used only as a method of last resort.  If you are suing your landlord, contact the Austin Tenant's Council for help first.  They may be able to resolve your disagreement through mediation rather than going to court.  But if all else fails, the Austin Tenant's Council outlines how Small Claims Court works.  Be advised, this is only an outline and if you have legal questions, you should contact a lawyer.

Small Claims Court is for civil cases that involve money of $10,000 or less.  The only thing small claims court can do is give you money you are owed.  To bring suit against someone in small claims court, you have to sign a sworn statement called a petition or a complaint with the justice of the peace.  The plaintiff brings the suit and the defendant is the person being sued.  Before you take someone to court, make sure that they have the financial means to pay you back.  If they have neither the money nor the property to cover the judgement against them, you're better off just moving on because you aren't going to be paid back.  Also, before you file suit, be sure that the other person can't bring a counter-suit against you and be sure that the statute of limitations hasn't run out on your complaint.

Your claim should be filed in the court of the precinct that is in the area where the defendant lives.  You can find the numbers and addresses for the court in the phone book.  The civil clerk in the small claims court will give you a petition.  This is where you say why you want to bring suit against the defendant.  You turn this form, along with a fee, into the clerk.  If you have no money for the fee, you can file a pauper's affidavit.

Usually you will bring your case before a judge, but either side can request a jury trial.  This request must be made at least one day before the trial and costs $5.  When you file your claim, be sure you have the exact name and address of the person(s) you are bringing suit against.  Otherwise, your complaint cannot be delivered.

In ten to fourteen days, you should contact the court to find out when the defendant was served.  From the date the defendant is served, they have ten days to answer the charge.  If the defendant does not answer in the time period, the plaintiff can ask to get a judgement by default against the defendant.  

If the defendant does answer, find out from the court when your trial date is.  On the date of your trial, be on time and bring any corroborating evidence or witnesses you want to present to the judge.  The judge will only consider evidence you bring with you, so make sure you have everything to give yourself the best chance of winning.  Also, it's best to carefully outline what you plan to say and practice it with a friend.  Never interrupt the judge, always address the judge and/or jury, not the defendant, and be sure to say "your honor" to the judge.  Small claims court is set up so that you can argue your case yourself, but you can hire an attorney if that is what you prefer.

There are several other steps in the process from there, so be sure to read the entire article for details on appeals, counter-suits, and collecting on the judgement.

Looking for an apartment with a landlord you hopefully won't have to sue?  Apartments Now can help!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Security Deposits

Security deposits are almost always required when you sign a lease.  These amounts vary by apartment, but they are intended to pay for any damages you inflict during the term of the lease.  A landlord cannot deduct from your security deposit for normal wear and tear.  The law states that a security deposit must be returned within thirty days of move out.  The Austin Tenant's Council has some helpful tips for how to be sure you get your entire security deposit back under Texas Law.

First, when you first move in, you should conduct a move-in inventory inspection.  Disagreements between the landlord and the tenant over the condition of theapartment at move-in often arise, so it's best to prevent this from happening.  When you first move in, make a list of everything that is broken, stained, defective or damaged.  Both you and your landlord should sign the list.  If the landlord refuses, be sure to document everything with pictures and video or ask a witness to view the apartment with you.  Send a copy of your list to your landlord and keep a copy for your records.

About three months before you plan to move out, check your lease to see how much written notice is required.  Tenants usually have to notify the landlord of their intent to move out in writing 30 to 60 days in advance to get their security deposit back.  Texas Property Code allows landlords to keep the deposit if  the required advance notice is properly noted in the lease and not given.  

When you are getting ready to move, you should clean your apartment and ask your landlord to do a move-out inventory inspection with you.  The tenant should do another inventory form, like the move-in inventory.  If the landlord doesn't agree with what the tenant has written, that should be negotiated at the time of the move-out walk-through.  Even if the landlord can't do a walk-through, tenants should still make an inventory list and ask a friend to be a witness to what condition the apartment is in.  Videos and pictures are excellent further proof of condition if the landlord is not present or will not sign a move out inventory.  The inventory lists could be used as evidence if you end up in court with your landlord.

Finally, be sure to turn in your keys on the same day you leave your apartment.  If the keys aren't turned in then, your landlord may charge you more rent or other punitive charges.  If you follow all these rules, you should find yourself with your security deposit back in your pocket and ready to be used at your next abode!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Giving Notice of Intent to Move out

Giving notice of intent to move out is something that should be covered in your lease agreement.  It varies from apartment to apartment, so it is important to read your lease agreement carefully to make sure you give notice to your landlord properly and in a timely manner.  The Austin Tenant's Council covers the general ways notice must be given.
Either the landlord or the tenant can give notice.  If you don't want to move, your landlord still has the right to ask the tenant to move out at the end of the lease term.  Neither the tenant nor the landlord need a reason for ending the lease contract.  The exception to this is that a landlord can't give a tenant a termination notice as punishment for the tenant requesting repairs or as discrimination against the fair housing law.
Most leases stipulate that the lease automatically renews on a month-to-month basis until a 30-day notice is given.  Also, make sure to see if your lease requires written notice rather than verbal notice and plan accordingly.  The lease also may restrict when you can terminate the lease.  They may only allow it to end at the end of a calendar month.  So you will be responsible for the entire month of the lease even if you give notice on the 15th.  

Your written notice of intent to move should have the address of the rental, the date the lease ends, the move-out date planned, and your forwarding address so you can get back your security deposit.  The letter should be given to the landlord or leasing agent in the presence of a witness or by certified mail, return receipt requested.  Be sure to keep a copy of the letter as well.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Maintenance in Rentals

There is a difference in timeliness of repairs between a professionally managed apartment complex and a private owner rental like a duplex or a house.  We lay out the differences between the two and how quickly you can expect repairs to be made in both situations.  
Apartment rentals that are professionally managed always have in your lease contract the difference between emergency maintenance and non-emergency maintenance and the time frame for getting it fixed.  A broken air conditioner, sink or toilet that is overflowing, etc. is considered an emergency and maintenance will respond between 24 and 48 hours.  However, if you have two bathrooms and one toilet is stopped up, that may not be considered an emergency.  But if there's water on the floor, that is an emergency and the apartment complex will want to get it fixed as soon as possible so that it won't cause damage to the unit.
If you rent a personally owned house, duplex, etc. they will get to your problem when they are able to.  A landlord that does not have their property managed by a property management company has to call around and find a contractor as opposed to having someone they already have contracted with to fix the problem and use everytime they have a problem.  This adds time to how long it takes them to get repairs made on your unit.  That's why we like to work with professionally managed apartment complexes and it's something you should consider when you are deciding where to live.
Non-emergency maintenance would be something like a doorknob breaking or a light not working and an apartment complex would get that repaired within two to four business days.  In other words, they aren't going to respond to something like that on a weekend.  They will of course still get it fixed, but it's considered non-urgent.  However the timeliness of the response is still going to be a lot better than a private owner, especially one who lives out of town or owns a lot of properties.