AUSTIN, Texas — Central Texans are sharing their stories of water woes over Christmas weekend.
Last week, KVUE shared tenant rights and violations and heard from many viewers who had their water turned off with no explanation.
Sophia Martinez's son, daughters and grandchild came from different states and cities for Christmas. Martinez said she was excited to have everyone under her roof, until they could no longer stay. After buying groceries for a Christmas dinner, she said she ultimately could not cook or even keep clean in her home.
"We [couldn't] take showers or clean our teeth or wash our face," Martinez said.
Martinez lives at The Morgan on Wells Branch Parkway. She said her apartment complex sent an email on Friday, Dec. 23, that said the water would be turned off due to events out of their control – specifically, "Mother Nature," referring to the freeze. But Martinez and other residents at the complex did not receive any notice on when water would be turned on, or what alternative sources of water would be available to them.
"We pay to live in a comfortable environment," Martinez said. "And water is a necessity."
Martinez said she had to ask for help to buy enough water for her and her family after having to go to a gym to take showers.
Over Christmas weekend, temperatures in Central Texas dropped below freezing, with even colder wind chills. Winds reached 30 mph to 40 mph. But it wasn't until Monday, Dec. 26, days after the Arctic blast moved out of Central Texas, that Martinez said she and other residents had their water turned back on.
There was no communication or explanation for the extended period of time without water, even after temperatures outside were above freezing and pipes were no longer at risk.
According to the Austin Tenants Council:
"A landlord may shut off any utility (electricity, water, wastewater, and gas) to carry out repairs or construction or in an emergency. A landlord may never shut off electricity, water, wastewater or gas because the tenant is delinquent with a rent or utility payment. Any provision of a lease that purports to waive any of the tenant’s rights, liabilities or duties under the utility shutoff law is void."
Texas state Property code section 92.008 echoes this, and continues:
"(f) If a landlord or a landlord's agent violates this section, the tenant may:
"(1) either recover possession of the premises or terminate the lease; and
"(2) in addition to other remedies available under law, recover from the landlord an amount equal to the sum of the tenant's actual damages, one month's rent plus $1,000, reasonable attorney's fees, and court costs, less any delinquent rents or other sums for which the tenant is liable to the landlord."
According to the group, Building and Strengthening Tenant Action, or BASTA, , a landlord or property management group trying to avoid a pipe rupture in the freeze does not count as an emergency.
Martinez showed KVUE records of emailing and calling her apartment complex, its corporate office, the Austin City Code Department and her water supplier to no avail.
Martinez listed what questions she asked each entity.
“Why is the water off? What did I do? Did they pay the bill? What's going on? How long is it going to be off for? Like, they didn't even communicate with us to let us know,” she said.
She said the apartment complex residents, and others who were in similar situations across Central Texas over the weekend, are owed an explanation.
"Imagine people that didn't have [help,], that couldn't even really afford a Christmas," Martinez said. "I imagine what they had to go through when they didn't have anybody they can turn to or anybody that can buy them water or loan them money or anything like that."