Austin Tenants' Council: Fire victims asked to sign questionable document


by HEATHER KOVAR / KVUE News and photojournalist MICHAEL MOORE

Bio | Email | Follow: @HeatherK_KVUE

Posted on January 2, 2013 at 7:24 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 2 at 11:12 PM

AUSTIN -- Early morning December 20th, a fire at International Residence Apartments in Northwest Austin destroyed 68 units. Two days later, residents who lost their homes in the fire, say they were asked to sign a four-page document releasing the complex of any liability.

When Lisa Jenkins and her husband decided not to sign, Jenkins said they were told they wouldn't get their deposit nor pro-rated rent back.

"We would not get our money and we would be liable for January's rent and other fees, parking," said Jenkins.

Nekesha Phoenix with the Austin Tenants' Council said Texas Property Code 92.054 states residents are entitled to their deposit, plus a pro-rated refund from the day they are forced out.

"I just feel it's really unconscionable for management to even present these agreements to the tenants and expect them to sign these," Phoenix said.

According to the code, either the tenant or complex can terminate the lease without penalty.

"I think (the apartment complex) could be bordering on a violation of the deceptive trade practice," Phoenix said.

The document states, "whereas the fault of the fire has not been determined, and resident wishes to be released from lease obligation without penalty ..." Over to page three, item six in part reads, "Full Settlement and Release. It is understood and agreed that this agreement represents a full and complete compromise and settlement of all claims, causes of action and defenses of the parties."

"I'd rather let the $300 go than let someone bully me," Jenkins said.

The Austin Tenants' Council said instead of signing the document, those who lost their homes in the fire should put in writing that they are terminating their lease agreement as of December 20th.

Even if they deliver it in person to the leasing office, they should send a copy certified mail. Phoenix advises residents to site the Texas Property Code.

Phoenix said it is questionable why residents would be asked to sign what's tittled as a release and settlement agreement, when there is no settlement offered, just what is rightfully owed to residents. Especially over the holidays under a time of duress, she said.

Any renter with questions concerning leases or any documents they are asked to sign, can contact the the Tenants' council at 512-474-196.