Austin City Council votes to fund tenant education program, protects renters’ right to organize

Ali Juell, Senior News Reporter

The Austin City Council voted on Oct. 13 to fund tenants’ rights assistance and an education program through the Austin Tenant Council, in addition to voting on Oct. 27 to protect tenants’ rights to organize. 

“Everyone deserves safe living conditions,” community member Liz Clawson said during the Oct. 27 meeting. “Offering tenants more organizing protections will empower members of our community by giving them the chance to push back against substandard living conditions with less fear of displacement.”

Martin Serra, UT Legal Services for Students attorney, said organizing helps push change at both the state and local levels to improve housing conditions.

“Typically when a group of hosts can get together and organize their voice, it can amplify their voice,” Serra said. “Oftentimes, that’s what’s needed in order to make change.”

Through Legal Services for Students, students receive a free, confidential legal consultation to get assistance on their renting questions and problems. The website additionally provides information on issues like renters’ insurance, repair problems and eviction.

Serra said it’s important that students review their leasing contract before signing it so they know what they’re agreeing to. He said students must remember that the contractual obligations of their landlord typically end at providing the unit, and it’s important to realize other services, unless otherwise stated, are not the owner’s obligation to provide.

“I’ll tell students that a situation may not be fair, and I can empathize and agree that the situation is unfair,” Serra said. “However, these contracts are not typically written with fairness in mind or as the primary goal. (My focus is) making sure that we set that aside and really look at what the contractual obligations are and determine what the best path forward would be.”

For students who want assistance in looking over their lease, Serra said Student Legal Services provides this resource.

Serra said he also gives presentations on various topics surrounding renting and important information for students as they transition to off-campus housing. He said he hopes to help more students become educated on the renting process and stay informed on their leases.

“I think that, unfortunately, not a lot of students know about legal services (the University provides),” Serra said. “I would say really, it’s (important) to set and manage expectations when it comes to the relationship between the landlord and the tenant to really know what that lease does.”