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44 Round Rock families impacted by townhome evictions caused by winter storm damage

A Williamson County judge granted a temporary restraining order requiring the property management to continue paying for hotels for a few tenants until April 14.

ROUND ROCK, Texas — When the February winter storms hit Texas, many Central Texas homes and apartments were damaged due to things like water pipes bursting. 

That was true for the Townhomes at Double Creek, a low-income housing complex where storm damage repairs forced residents to stay at hotels as they waited for the repairs to be completed.

Now, up to 44 families have received eviction notices this month due to the damage – all with about a week's notice. In the eviction notices, management also informed impacted residents that, after the seven days, they will not continue to pay for the hotels some tenants have been staying at.

"But the issue there is that even though these units are damaged, they need a lot of repairs, there's nowhere else for these families to go, especially on the timeline that they were given," said Janneke Parrish with the group Central Texas Together, which has been trying to help the impacted families.

On Thursday, a Williamson County judge granted a temporary restraining order that requires the property management to continue paying for a few tenants' hotel rooms until next Wednesday, April 14.

Credit: Janeshia Hardison
Exposed walls and ceilings inside of former resident Janeshia Hardison's home. Janeshia was one of the families given an eviction notice due to winter storm damage repair at the Townhomes at Double Creek in Round Rock.

One week's notice

According to pictures of the notices that KVUE received, some of the notices were written on April 1 with a lease termination date of April 8. Others received notices written on April 6 with a lease termination date of April 12. 

"You have seven days from today to remove your personal possessions from the unit," the notices read. 

The notices explain that the damage to the units is "so extensive that your unit has become totally unusable as a practical matter for residential purposes. The damage to the unit would result in health and safety hazards to you and your family if you returned to live in the unit." 

The notices go on to say that management is forced to exercise its right under Texas Property Code Section 92.054, "Casualty Loss," which allows management to terminate the leases.

Sandalwood Management manages the Townhomes at Double Creek. 

KVUE made several attempts to contact Sandalwood via phone call, text messaging, email and visiting the Sandalwood office itself. As of Thursday afternoon, KVUE had still not heard back for comment. 

However, KVUE's media partners at the Austin American-Statesman spoke to Bryan Schneider, Sandalwood's director of business development and acquisition. He explained that the management's insurance company gave Sandalwood a seven-day notice that its insurance company was going to stop paying for residents' hotel rooms. 

He also explained to the Statesman that the insurance company told management that Sandalwood had to terminate the residents' leases because the homes were uninhabitable. 

The eviction notices also read, "If you are currently staying at an off-site hotel arranged for you by management, your stay will continue to be paid up through the date coinciding with the last day of the aforementioned seven-day period. Hotel stay expense beyond that period will become your responsibility." 

Credit: Luis de Leon
Robert Duran loads his belongings into the back of a U-Haul truck on Wednesday afternoon. Duran is one of the 44 families with eviction notices at the Townhomes at Double Creek complex in Round Rock.

Residents detail frustration

On Wednesday, KVUE spoke to residents like Robert Duran, who was piling his family's personal belongings into a large U-Haul truck to take it to a storage unit. 

He said a few weeks after the winter storms, contractors began inspecting his unit to survey possible damage.

"And when they cut the ceiling, they found out. Yes, they found out that our pipes had busted. But luckily, we didn't have the flood and all that like everyone else," Duran said.

He added that the ceiling, which had been cut open, had been left exposed so he covered it with a shower curtain. 

It was around a month later when contractors came back to check the floors. After that, repairs continued to expand in his home.

Duran said his family was later offered a hotel to stay in while the repairs took place. That began on Monday, April 5. He also said they were informed they had their stay paid for until the following Tuesday, April 13. 

"I couldn't get an exact time frame of what was going on," Duran said, adding, "So, Thursday night comes and I get a phone call from the front office at the Holiday Inn and they said, 'Hey, you have a notice from the apartment.'"

That notice was the termination of his lease due to casualty loss. It said he had to leave by April 8. 

As of Wednesday afternoon, Duran said his family was able to get storage space for their belongings, but they were still looking for a place to fully move into. 

"I'm just sad for some people because they may be in a worse situation or we all handle stress differently, and I'm just hoping that they don't lose faith, that they don't get angry at the world, that they don't blame themselves, they don't blame others, that they just know that it's, it happened and we just have to work through it and that there are organizations out there," Duran said.

Credit: Luis de Leon
Exposed flooring and parts of the wall were removed in order for repairs to be completed in Robert Duran's home.

Other residents, like Janeshia Hardison, a single mother of four who lived at the complex, sustained damage during the winter storm, specifically on Feb. 16. 

"My children called me and [said] water was coming out of the ceiling, so my bedroom got destroyed. The kitchen area got destroyed. The dining area got destroyed. Water was everywhere. I mean, it covered your feet. That's how much water was in the unit," she said. 

Hardison said she tried reaching out to management but there was a lack of communication, so she had to pay for a hotel out of her own pocket.

She told KVUE Wednesday that she and her children were still staying in a hotel. They've been in a hotel since Feb. 21. She said she had to use half of her savings to continue paying for the room.

Hardison said she later got help from the Austin Disaster Relief Network to help pay for it for a few weeks. 

"It's devastating. You know, I'm a single mother of four kids. I work and I take care of my kids and not having a home, not having a place for them to go to, it's hard. They are – they feel what I'm feeling. They, they see the struggle. They understand, like, we have to stay in a room. Their friends are saying this and it's really hard for them," she said.

Hardison was also given until April 8 to get her belongings out of her unit. Now, she said she has recently found a place that she and her family may soon move into, but she hopes something like this doesn't happen to anyone else. 

"Just to make sure that you stay in connection with ... a lot of different resources, make sure that you never give up the fight. I never gave up to fight with trying to fight for my kid's livelihood, my livelihood. I contacted the office every day, all day," she said. 

Credit: Janeshia Hardison
Exposed walls inside of Janeshia Hardison's former home at the Townhomes at Double Creek in Round Rock.

Another impacted resident, Renee Rivera, was given until April 12 to remove her belongings from her unit. 

"Truthfully, I feel like I'm in a rush because I have to hurry up and get out," she told KVUE over the phone Thursday, adding, "Because, if not, I feel like they're going to throw my stuff out." 

Volunteers, organizations step in to help

Janneke Parrish is a volunteer for Central Texas Together, a group that has been trying to help guide impacted families towards the right resources. She said the main issue is the timeline that these families were given. 

"The timeline that they were given was that they needed to be out by April 8. But a lot of these are vulnerable families. And Travis and Williamson counties ... they don't have very many low-income housing options," Parrish said Wednesday. 

She also said Central Texas Together first started helping residents in early March with basic supplies, food and water as some tenants were still struggling with the winter storms. 

Overall, she believes this may not be the last time Central Texans see this type of situation.

"This is not the only complex that was very badly damaged in the winter storm. It's something that we're seeing throughout Austin throughout Williamson County. This is not just these 44 families. It is a systemic issue across, across Central Texas. It's just that these families, we were able to get them attention, were able to get them help," Parrish said.

"We need to make sure that our complexes like this are safe and protected. This is not likely to be the last storm like this. And we need to make sure that these vulnerable families living in these complexes have the support for when something like this does happen, that they're not left with no other options and nowhere to go," Parrish continued.

Credit: Janeshia Hardison
Exposed walls and ceilings inside of former resident Janeshia Hardison's home. Janeshia was one of the families given an eviction notice due to winter storm damage repair at the Townhomes at Double Creek in Round Rock.

Williamson County Commissioner Terry Cook has also been reaching out to state representatives for help. He said in a statement:

“We cannot have families left out on the street due to circumstances that are beyond their control. I have been working with the City of Round Rock Emergency Management, the HUD grant coordinator, the Round Rock Area Serving Center, Congressman Carter’s office and Representative James Talarico’s office and others to determine what can be done to assist the residents of the Townhomes at Double Creek. I am grateful to report we have secured additional hotel nights for them. Each family needs to go to the RRASC website http://www.rrasc.org and submit an application. Additionally, many residents of this county want to help with money and efforts, so anyone wishing to help should make donations to the Round Rock Area Serving Center specifying use for the displaced residents This is so terrible at a time when rents and home purchases are at all-time highs in cost and all-time lows in availability.  This is the result of a declared disaster; state help is needed.”

The Round Rock Area Serving Center has also been offering help by providing storage space for tenants' personal belongings, temporary lodging and more. And the Austin Tenants Council has also stepped in to help impacted tenants. 

Molly Jensen, the executive director for the Austin Tenants Council, explained some of the concerns with the eviction notices, including how the management company cited casualty loss as the reason for terminating the leases. 

"So, we have certainly seen that there are instances in which units are 100%, are totally uninhabitable. And certainly, that happens if there's a fire or if there's flooding and everything's destroyed or if there is no water or no electricity," she said. "What we've seen in a lot of these units is that either there was damage that has been repaired so that the unit is almost completely back to kind of normal function with the exception of a few, you know, portions of a wall that need to be repaired or something, an interior wall that needs to be repaired. But they do not meet the threshold of being 100% uninhabitable."

She added that another issue is tenants were unprepared for the eviction notices. 

"Many of these tenants have been told repeatedly for weeks that that, you know, 'A couple more weeks your unit will be ready.' So, they did not seek alternate accommodations or another, they didn't pursue another lease at another property and they paid out of pocket, many of them for, for several weeks in a hotel with the assurance that they would be reimbursed," she said. 

The temporary restraining order granted by the Williamson County judge was in response to a filing from the Austin Community Law Center, which Jensen said focused initially on the tenants who are staying in hotels. 

Attorneys may file for the larger group of people who are still in their apartments.

Brian McGiverin, an attorney and the executive director of the Austin Community Law Center, said the center will help represent those who choose to work with it.

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