AUSTIN, Texas — After an almost non-existent St. Patrick's Day crowd at a local Irish pub in Pflugerville, Lauren Garcia's fear became a reality when she lost her waitressing job.
She would be able to pay partial rent but was worried about making the rest of the money in time. She spoke with an employee at her apartment complex, Broadstone Grand Avenue. She claims the complex told her they would work on a solution.
However, when April 1 passed and she logged onto her account, she saw the late fee charges stacking up and realized she had a fight ahead of her.
She was charged $75 the first day she was late, and $10 every day thereafter, for three more days.
"She said as of now, on April 15 we are going to be proceeding with the eviction notice and there was a plan for deferment we were never really told about," Garcia was told.
When Garcia tried to push for information on this deferment plan, she said she did not get any information, nor could she find any instructions online.
Garcia knew Travis County courts would not be hearing eviction proceedings until May, but there were no regulations regarding late fees.
Fred Fuchs, with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, and an adjunct professor at the University of Texas Law School, said most apartments can charge late fees if they choose. There are no current restrictions against this and it is not illegal.
However, according to The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation database, Broadstone Grande Avenue holds a federally-backed or insured mortgage.
Marissa Latta, a legal aid attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, said if this database is correct, it would mean the apartment complex is covered by the CARES Act 120-day moratorium on evictions and late fees prohibition.
Therefore, tenants are protected from eviction for 120 days from March 27, entitled to a 30-day notice to vacate after that date and cannot be charged late fees.
"This is sad and the worst of landlord behavior to assess late fees in this crisis rather than to notify the tenants that it will work with them and waive late fees," said Fuchs.
KVUE reached out to the manager of Broadstone Grand Avenue to inquire about the fees. The following day, Garcia notified our team they decided to drop the late fees.
Garcia was also able to raise the funds to complete the rest of the rent payment.
"I was lucky enough to have people in the community reach out to me and help me with those payments," Garcia said.
While the complex finally resolved Garcia's situation, she still shared her story because she does not want this to happen to anyone else who may be going through a tough time.
"Those apartments doing that, they are probably aware, but I want them to be aware of the hardship they are causing people and I want them to think about that for the next residents coming in or if we ever have a situation like this because it doesn’t look kindly upon them," Garcia said.
KVUE reached out to the apartment complex four times over the span of a week to see if they dropped late fees for any other tenant in the complex. At 8:11 p.m. Tuesday, we received the following statement:
"We sincerely apologize for the confusion, especially during this challenging time. Our priority right now is working individually with our residents through our Home Comes First resident program, specifically designed to address hardships our residents may be experiencing as a result of COVID-19. At Broadstone Grand Avenue, one element of the program is that we are waiving late fees — previously, this was done on an individual basis for all residents who were working with us on a rent payment solution but we are now removing late fees altogether to alleviate any potential for undue stress and concern. We introduced the program to our residents at the beginning of this month — supported by our national Home Comes First team, and our on-site associates are available to discuss specific hardships and how we can help. We believe that no one should have to worry about whether they’ll have a roof over their head."
On Friday, April 10, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt signed an order prohibiting the issuance of orders to vacate through May 8. The City of Austin in March also announced it would be halting evictions.
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