Who we are
The Texas Tenants’ Union is a nonprofit tenants’ rights organization. We empower tenants through education and organizing to protect their rights, preserve their homes, improve their living conditions and enhance the quality of life in their communities.
How we do this:
Free tenants’ rights workshops – held on the 2nd Monday of each month at 6:30 pm. Workshops cover leases, eviction, deposits, and repairs. Afterwards, one-to-one help is available. Workshops are conducted in partnership with the Center for Transforming Lives, and Legal Aid of Northwest Texas.
Written materials including a Handbook of Tenants’ Rights (available in English and Spanish), form letters for common problems such as getting security deposits back, getting repairs done, and finding out who owns the property.
Organizing assistance – at the apartment complex level, and around city, state, and federal housing issues.
Counseling to help individuals solve their tenant/landlord problems.
Training for tenants on how to represent themselves in the Justice of the Peace court in cases with their landlord.
Referrals for emergency rent assistance, legal help, and/or appropriate social services.
Background and History:
The Texas Tenants’ Union (TTU) originated in 1973 as the East Dallas Tenants Alliance by tenants concerned about substandard conditions, displacement and abusive practices. In 1979, TTU incorporated when the Alliance merged with groups from Fort Worth and Austin. TTU has a long history of educating and organizing tenants to protect their rights, as well as to advance tenants’ rights and fight for affordable housing. This work is rooted in social justice, not merely out of charitable concern. For more than 40 years, we have given tenants the information and assistance they need to solve their rental housing problems, as well as get involved and make a difference in their communities.
Educating tenants on their rights through free workshops, phone assistance, written materials, and training.
Organizing tenants to improve their housing conditions, fight displacement, and stand up to unfair practices.
Advancing tenants’ rights and affordable housing in public policy.
COVID-19 – TTU played key roles in winning the suspension of eviction cases, and in the passage of an emergency eviction ordinance to protect tenants that have lost income due to COVID-19. Nonpayment eviction cases were suspended statewide through May 18 and in Dallas County until June 15, 2020. TTU wrote to the County Commissioners urging the eviction suspensions and to the Dallas City Council asking them to enact the ordinance. We also collected notices threatening eviction that had been sent to tenants laid off due to COVID 19; sent an action alert to our Dallas members, resulting in dozens of personal stories being sent to the council members on why the ordinance should pass; connected multiple journalists with TTU members who were threatened with eviction to demonstrate need; collaborated with organizational allies to generate letters to the council members; wrote an op ed which was published in a local newspaper; and recruited a TTU member to testify at the hearing on the ordinance along with TTU’s program director. The ordinance passed unanimously. TTU coordinated with advocates in other cities and counties to try to help win similar protections. We also initiated a statewide sign-on letter to the Texas Congressional Delegation signed by 40 organizational allies on the need for additional rental assistance. See links to coverage on TTU’s COVID activities here.
Tenants’ Rights Education – We educate approximately 5,000 tenants a year through our tenant education workshops and telephone hotline. Last year, 99.6% of the tenants who filled out our Workshop Evaluation form indicated they would recommend it to other tenants. The tenant follow-up surveys we received show the housing problem was resolved for 69% of the respondents, and is still in the process of being resolved for 15%. 83% said TTU was very helpful and 10% said TTU was somewhat helpful. Since COVID-19, TTU has made presentations in multiple Facebook Live and Zoom workshops in partnership with several organizations including Faith in Texas, the Center for Transforming Lives, and the DFW Corona Connection to explain tenants’ rights under the new Dallas ordinance and the CARES Act eviction protections.
Improvements to Texas Tenant/Landlord Law – Here is a partial list of tenant/landlord laws that were initiated by TTU and passed.
Establishing the landlord’s duty to repair through a 1978 Texas Supreme Court case brought by a member of the East Dallas Tenants Alliance The decision was codified in state law in 1979;
Establishing the repair and deduct remedy in 1989;
Establishing an application deposit law in 1995;
Winning an at-risk set-aside in the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program to preserve subsidized housing in 2001;
Establishing a limit on late fees in 2007;
Expanding protections from retaliation in 2013 to cover tenants who establish, attempt to establish, or participate in a tenant group (and in 1995, to cover tenants standing up for rights granted to them in their lease, or in local, state or federal law);
Establishing the tenants’ right to a complete copy of their lease in 2013;
Prohibiting landlords from making tenants waive their right to a jury trial in 2015;
Expanding the methods for delivering repair requests to trigger tenants’ rights in 2015;
Reining in abusive parking and towing practices in 2007 and 2019.
Organizing tenants facing displacement –
2019 – Tenants from Bryan Song Apartments came to our workshop on January 9 with a notice that they had to move by February 10 due to the closure and redevelopment of their apartment complex. Bryan Song is a 58-unit complex located in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, and was occupied by many Section 8 voucher holders, non-English speaking Cambodian refugees, and other extremely low income people. An estimated 34 units were occupied when the closure was announced. TTU sprang into action, helping the tenants organize a tenant association, develop a sign-on letter to the new owner and Management Company, hold a press conference, and car-pool to the new landlord’s office to deliver the letter. After a lot of media coverage and several rounds of negotiation, tenants received a two month extension, immediate return of their security deposits, and $500 to $1,000 in relocation assistance, none of which was required by state or local law. This was achieved only because the tenants organized and put a spotlight on the injustice. Tenants collectively received at least $17,000 in relocation assistance which they were able to use to move to housing, rather than to homeless shelters. After all the publicity, a Good Samaritan stepped forward and provided a total of $1,000 to five remaining households.
2018 – North Park Terrace was a 314 unit apartment complex acquired by the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) in the fall of 2017 with the intention to tear down the property and build a school. Tenants received a notice that leases were still in effect, and that relocation assistance would be given, but there was no set closure date. By early 2018, tenants were being pressured to move despite having school age children in the middle of the school year. TTU helped the tenants form a tenant association, obtain assistance from Legal Aid of Northwest Texas, and come up with a plan of action which included 1) a sign-on letter with their requests, including to keep property open for at least 30 days after the end of the school year, and 2) to attend the February 22nd school board meeting and make these requests. After tenants spoke to the school board, DISD’s management agent, DFW Advisors gave notice on February 26th that everyone’s lease would terminate on March 20th, and then evictions would start. TTU posted the notice on Twitter and Facebook which drew a massive public outcry, and within 24 hours the school board president posted on our Facebook that tenants could stay until the end of June. In addition, the school district agreed to increase relocation assistance from $1,200 to $5,200.
2016 – 2017 – HMK – On September 30, 2016, 305 families renting from HMK were given notice that the owners decided to shut down the rent houses rather than comply with city code. Almost all the tenants were Black or Latinx with extremely low incomes. Intervention by the City of Dallas led to a move-out extension until June 3, 2017. TTU conducted door-to-door outreach and held many tenant meetings in collaboration with the Texas Organizing Project. After much publicity, several court hearings packed by tenants, a march and rally, a post card campaign, and testimony before the city council, the owner agreed to sell 75 of his West Dallas houses to the tenants occupying them. Earlier, he agreed to sell 52 houses in Oak Cliff neighborhood, but he failed to file the deeds until HMK tenants raised the issue with elected officials. Six elderly women received life-estate deeds. Forty-five families who lived where the owner wanted to redevelop were given an extension until October 2017. In August of 2017, the City Council passed a voucher program to assist tenants impacted by substandard conditions. More than 100 homes were sold mostly to tenants, including 70 West Dallas properties that the owner claimed for months he would not sell. Dozens of other homes or lots in West Dallas were sold to Habitat for Humanity.
Organizing tenants in HUD-assisted properties
From 1985 – 2017, TTU had a focus on organizing tenants in at-risk HUD-assisted housing. This work helped lead to federal housing preservation programs including the Emergency Low Income Housing Preservation Act in 1987, the Low Income Housing Preservation and Resident Homeownership Act in 1990, and the Mark-to-Market Program in 1997. TTU was one of ten organizations nationwide to receive a HUD Outreach and Training Grant in 1994 to assist tenants in at-risk housing, and obtained several subsequent HUD contracts. This work produced tenant recruitment of new nonprofit ownership for several troubled properties including Woodland City and the Crest A Apartments in Dallas, and Fox Run Apartments in Victoria, TX. It resulted in improved physical conditions and long-term affordability for extremely low income people with active tenant involvement at more than 100 apartment complexes throughout the state. It also resulted in rent decreases and hundreds of thousands of dollars in retroactive compensation to tenants at two HUD properties with inadequate utility allowances, the Village of Kaufman and Blessing Court. Lastly, it led to the establishment of strong regulations on the tenants’ right to organize, and to the reform of utility allowance policy.
Highlights on Nationwide HUD Policy Advancements
We have played a key role in influencing federal housing policy, with national partners, in several ways:
Reforming HUD Utility Allowance Policy – The failures of HUD revealed by the Village of Kaufman case led to HUD issuing a nationwide directive to landlords and HUD officials on the need to regularly conduct utility analyses.
In 2013, TTU initiated a committee within the National Alliance of HUD Tenants to make recommendations to HUD for creating uniform guidance for conducting a utility analysis, some of which were adopted when HUD issued the guidance in 2015.
Right to Organize – TTU won the first-ever notice of violation to a HUD landlord for interfering with the right to organize in 2018. The regulations on the right to organize were issued on June 7, 2000 after a TTU organizer was arrested and jailed for leafletting at a HUD-assisted property. This led to a campaign by the National Alliance of HUD Tenants to establish the regulations. Threatening and bullying tenants who are organizing and tenant organizers who are helping is almost universal. See Shelterforce article https://shelterforce.org/2019/07/24/after-19-years-hud-finally-puts-a-landlord-on-notice-for-interference-with-the-right-to-organize/
Establishing and extending federal programs to preserve subsidized housing (TTU staff and low income TTU members testified at Congressional hearings, among other things.)
http://archives-financialservices.house.gov/hearing110/ht102907.shtml Debra Junor testified for TTU
http://archives-financialservices.house.gov/hearing110/htfoster102307.pdf Testimony of TTU member Paula Foster on behalf of the National Alliance of HUD tenants
http://bit.ly/Congressionaltestimony Testimony of Sandy Rollins before House Banking Committee, Subcommittee on Housing and Community Development in 1990
Local Housing Policy
2017 – Won the passage of a local voucher program to assist tenants who are displaced due to substandard conditions.
2016 – Won improvements to the Dallas Minimum Property Standards Code.
1990 – Won standards for heating and air conditioning in Dallas Minimum Property Standards Code.
1988 – Won anti-retaliation ordinance in Dallas City Code.
Sample victories and tenant stories
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFjD2abrZ8A&t=4s – Gerald talks about prevailing in an eviction battle with TTU’s help
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFPHjOeg1Lw – Leona and her son talk about dealing with an abusive landlord and trying to stay in a community that is rapidly gentrifying
Other significant moments in TTU history:
Northwest and Northlake Terrace and work to preserve at-risk HUD housing in the Sacramento Bee. https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/track?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:eadeff12-c80d-4269-bdb0-0d3b4fe08da5
Holding HUD Accountable https://www.dallasobserver.com/news/gimme-shelter-6402232
Prince Hall Chambre – Owner rented to extremely low income tenants without allowing them to use subsidy. After moving tenants in on a $99 special, he would evict them when they couldn’t pay market rent. As a result of failing to honor the Section 8 contract, only 93 vouchers would have been issued for 168 units. TTU helped tenants prevent the loss of subsidies and win compensation. https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/track?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:fdeb18fa-9b82-4b8b-83f9-e3b382b5e979
Preventing Displacement at Ticknor Terrace https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/track?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:81be3d2a-9171-436e-9ea5-742425099bd5#pageNum=1
Workshop Coverage from the 1990’s https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/track?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:c45c60d8-88e3-42df-a6fd-4dbb5c5bd0f9