Four San Antonio City Council members stood with several housing rights groups in the blustery rain Tuesday to announce a plan to raise awareness of renters’ existing rights to safe housing.

Ultimately, they hope a “Tenant Bill of Rights” resolution will spread awareness of existing rights, and eventually lead to changes in local laws that could strengthen those rights while remaining in compliance with state laws.

A city council resolution cannot change existing laws or implement new ones, Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4) acknowledged, and she challenged the City Attorney’s Office to find creative ways to strengthen local laws and punishments for negligent landlords.

“Don’t tell me we can’t find a solution, because this is a problem and we need to fix it,” she said.

The city convened a task force last year in response to derelict conditions at certain apartment complexes to come up with guidelines for a proactive apartment inspection program. The task force has yet to release any policy recommendations, but the city has since hired two code enforcement officers who focus on proactive apartment complex inspection and respond to complaints.

“I’ve had to live with water leaking from my bathroom ceiling through the years and nothing has been done about it,” said Silvia Flores, who has lived for four years at Seven Oaks Apartments, where tenants have complained of mold, leaky pipes, swollen ceilings, broken air conditioners, unchecked crime and unresponsive management.

“It is very important for me, for us,” Flores said, “to pass the Tenant Bill of Rights in San Antonio, because we as renters are often not aware that we don’t have to live like this.”

The resolution should act as an awareness campaign for renters, Rocha Garcia said. About 625,000 renters live in San Antonio and rental units make up about 46% of the city’s housing stock, according to a 2022 Texas Housers report. Almost half of renters here are cost-burdened, meaning they pay more than 30% of their income toward housing.

Rocha Garcia chairs the council’s Planning and Community Development Committee and will place a draft resolution on its February meeting agenda to kick off the process, she said. Council members Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2), Teri Castillo (D5) and outgoing Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) also attended the press conference in support of the resolution.

“I can’t tell you how many calls we’ve received, at least dozens, from tenants in my district who are being neglected by their management companies [or] by their landlords,” McKee-Rodriguez said. “And these are not … luxurious things that are being asked for, this is the bare minimum.”

The resolution will outline local laws and those in the state constitution, including the right to demand home maintenance that impacts health and safety, advance notice requirements, the right to file suit against landlords who don’t make repairs and to be free of retaliation after a complaint is made.

“We want to ensure livability standards [and] we want to make sure that negligent landlords know that what they’re doing is not okay,” said Uel Trejo-Rivera, a community equity analyst at Texas Housers, an affordable housing policy and advocacy nonprofit.

Texas Housers joined forces with Texas Organizing Project, My City is My Home and the Coalition for Tenant Justice to offer suggested language for the resolution.

For example, Trejo-Rivera said it should include a pledge to prioritize low-income communities in housing policy, provide information in both English and Spanish and condemn source-of-income discrimination.

State law prohibits a city ban on source-of-income discrimination, but in 2021, San Antonio City Council found a workaround to the law, approving a rule that requires new housing projects to accept housing vouchers if they receive city incentives. Under the policy, if a tenant is otherwise not qualified to live at a property, the landlord can still reject them — but it can’t be because of the voucher.

The Tenant Bill of Rights resolution would also acknowledge the city’s Notice of Tenants’ Rights Ordinance, enacted in 2020, which requires landlords to give tenants information about how the eviction process works when they serve an eviction notice, Rocha Garcia said.

She expects to review a draft of the resolution next month and will then convene the San Antonio Apartment Association, the San Antonio Housing Commission’s Renter’s Solutions Subcommittee and other stakeholders for input on the final version.

The councilwoman hopes the resolution will lead to other awareness efforts, she said. “I have to make sure that people know their rights.”

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org