Houston

‘No Water, No Rent’: Houstonians Risk Eviction To Organize Rent Strike Following Winter Storm

After two weeks without water, tenants decided on a strike.

Residents in West Houston meet to organize a rent strike.

While many Houstonians recovered from winter storm damages within days, others are still waiting for running water to be restored.

But at the Villas del Paseo apartment complex in West Houston, renters were without water for more than three weeks.

Organizers with the Houston Tenants Union say about half of residents in the 383-unit complex are participating in a rent strike after deciding not to pay rent on March 1. So far, they say none of the residents have gotten an eviction notice.

Ally Torres urged her neighbors to join the strike at a community meeting last weekend.

"Call your neighbors, let's participate, okay?" Torres said, leading the group in chanting "no water, no rent."

Ally Torres and her neighbors at Villas del Paseo at a community meeting.
Villas del Paseo resident Raimy Aguilar joins a community meeting.

Another resident, Richard Konsor, also didn't pay rent on March 1. He's been taking his kids to a friend's house for baths. And he's frustrated by how difficult it's been to reach the managers at his complex, he said.

"There's nowhere to call. They say their phones are bad," Konsor said. "They say you can only write (them) mail. Nobody is there to talk to."

Around one in four homes had pipes burst during last month’s freeze, according to the Houston Public Works Department. That caused water pressure to drop across the city, and led thousands of people to go without water.

Zoey Stone with the Houston Tenants Union, who’s helping organize residents at Villas del Paseo, said that while a rent strike is rare in Texas, the conditions that renters are living in are not.

"This isn't the first complex we've been to where we've heard about ceilings caving in on people, or mold in their apartments, or just completely abysmal conditions," Stone said.

Stone added that urging residents to participate in the strike wasn't difficult — even though it puts them at risk of eviction — because water is essential.

Houston Public Media reached out to the management company at Villas del Paseo, Comuna Property Management, which did not respond to request for comment.

Organizers say water has been restored to most units over the past week.

Now, they're waiting on management to respond to their demands. They're asking for prorated rent for the weeks without running water, timely repairs for maintenance requests, and a response within 24 hours when residents contact them.

Raimy Aguilar, who has lived at the complex for two years, called it “the straw that broke the camel's back."

"There's so many other issues with the apartments,” she said. “There are so many people who are living with holes in their walls."

Her apartment was in need of serious repairs even before the freeze, she said. Water comes through her windows every time it rains. When she hears rain, she grabs towels for the floor, which is buckling with consistent water damage.

It's especially bad timing to lose water now — during a pandemic, when she and many others are working from home.

"It's been really distracting," Aguilar said. "I'm not going to work and being able to use the facilities there."

Still, deciding to participate in the rent strike was a difficult decision, she said.

"That was very scary,” Aguilar said. “That's the first time I've ever not paid rent…And it's very worrying, because you never know what they might do."

Subscribe to Today in Houston

Fill out the form below to subscribe our new daily editorial newsletter from the HPM Newsroom.

* required

Share

Jen Rice

Reporter

Jen Rice is the City Hall reporter at Houston Public Media, where she covers topics like Houston City Council and housing. Jen was born and raised in Houston's 100-year floodplain. She graduated from Barnard College at Columbia University and has a master's degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs...

More Information