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North Austin Families Struggle Without Heat As Gas Main Repair Work Continues
It’s the first freeze of the winter -- too cold of a night to be spending it without any heat. But residents in the Austin Commons Apartments have had no heat and no hot water for more than a week now due to a gas leak.
Crews are working to repair the leak. It’s been restored in several apartment buildings, but residents in other buildings are left with just space heaters and blankets to wait out the repair.
It’s a problem that could happen to anyone renting an apartment or house. There is language in nearly every single rental lease, according to the Austin’s Tenants Council, that protects the apartment complex in the event of a utility repair. If management has to turn off a utility for a repair, the lease protects the management company from having to reduce your rent, let you out of your lease, or provide you with better accommodations during repairs.
“This is just like opening a Christmas toy for Christmas,” laughed Hilda Garcia. “But instead of a Christmas gift, we're getting a heater for Christmas.”
It's not exactly what she wanted, but with no gas to heat her apartment, an electric heater is exactly what Hilda Garcia needed.
“That's ok, I'll be warm for the winter, for this cold freeze,” she said as she unwrapped and set up the small space heater she’d just picked up from the leasing office.
Garcia has been making due in her Austin Common's apartment for more than a week, without heat, a way to cook a hot meal, or any hot water.
“With three of these that are hot,” Garcia explained pointing to a pot of water she was boiling on an electric hot plate. “And then add a little cold water into a bucket, and you can take an old fashioned shower with a cup,” she explained about what she was doing with no hot water to shower.
The apartment complex has offered small solutions for residents while the gas line repairs are underway; solutions like a hot plate to cook, a space heater to stay warm, and portable outdoor showers to bathe.
When asked if the apartment complex was meeting the needs of tenants, Kathy Stark, President of the Austin Tenants Council said “Minimum. The minimum.”
Stark says as long as management is actively working to fix the problem- residents are stuck waiting it out. “It says the landlord had to start work within seven days,” explained Stark about the law. “They [Austin Commons] started work within two days. They've had people there working. As far as we can tell they are still bound by their lease.”
A major gas leak isn't enough to dampen Garcia's holiday spirit. “It's not dampening it,” said Garcia. “As long as I can see my granddaughter open her Christmas presents…and I want an oven for my Christmas dinner. I want make sure I have a turkey on the table.”
Teachers at Burnet Middle School, where many of the kids in the Austin Commons Apartments go to school, are trying to help by providing electric blankets, warm clothes and the necessities to the children and their families while the gas remains off.
City officials are optimistic the gas will be turned back on in the all of the apartments soon.
By Karen Kiley