The Texas Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, recently held enforceable a provision in a Texas Apartment Association approved lease that requires a tenant to reimburse a landlord for damage or cost of repairs that were not due to any negligence of the tenant. Philadelphia Indem. Ins. Co. v. White, No. 14-0086, 2016 WL 2848487 (Tex. May 13, 2016).
This case arose out of a fire that started in the tenant’s dryer and caused damage to several units in the apartment complex. The jury found the damage was not caused by the negligence of the tenant, but did find that she breached Section 12 of the Contract and thus would be responsible for the cost of repairs.
The provision in the lease stated in pertinent part:
DAMAGES AND REIMBURSEMENT. You must promptly pay or reimburse us for loss, damage, consequential damages, government fines or charges, or cost of repairs or service in the apartment community due to: a violation of the Lease Contract or rules; improper use; negligence; other conduct by you or your invitees, guests or occupants; or any other cause not due to [the landlord’s] negligence or fault. You will indemnify and hold us harmless from all liability arising from the conduct of you, your invitees, guests, or occupants, or our representatives who perform at your request services not contemplated in this Lease Contract. Unless the damage or wastewater stoppage is due to our negligence, we’re not liable for–and you must pay for–repairs, replacements and damage to the following if occurring during the Lease Contract term or renewal period: (1) damage to doors, windows, or screens; (2) damage from windows or doors left open; and (3) damage from wastewater stoppages caused by improper objects in lines exclusively serving your apartment.
The Defendant argued, among other things, that this provision was unenforceable because it conflicted with the Texas Property Code provision that shifted responsibility for repairs to the landlord, citing Section 92.052
The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that although the landlord has certain obligations to make repairs for normal wear and tear, etc., it is not obligated to make repairs for damage caused by the tenant. Thus, the landlord’s repair duties are only activated when the landlord has a statutory duty to repair – which it did not have in this case. Absent a statutory restriction, the parties are free to contract as they wish.
Circumstances like this certainly make the case for renter’s insurance.