New report calls out Houston's 'apartment epidemic'

A new report from the University of Texas School of Law is slamming Houston and its dealings with people living in some city apartments.

“How long am I suppose to be breathing this matter?,” asked a frustrated T.J. Baker, who lives in an apartment complex where she claims her requests for help have been neglected.

Baker says the sewage from the unit above her is overflowing into her apartment unit.

“I’m saying, 'What is that smell?,' and it’s the smell of fecal matter and urine," said Baker.

Apartment management has been notified time and time again, but Baker says nothing gets done to fix the real issues.

“They look at it and they make notes and they make pictures and whatever, but nothing, nothing at all, sir, nothing at all," said Baker.

A 16-month study conducted by the University of Texas School of Law blames the City of Houston, saying it is operating a largely dysfunctional system for addressing tenant safety that appears to have little or no oversight by city leaders.

“In a city with over 450,000 apartment units, that’s just two people responding to claims of mold, bug, rodent infestation, and sewage overflows," said Jo Ann Burbridge, a Sunnyside leader whose community was a focus of this study.

“You’re on the commode and then there’s toilet water coming down on you," claims Baker who doesn't live in Sunnyside but in southwest Houston.

“The City of Houston has responsibility to inspect units, enforce code, but it’s not happening here," says Heather Way, a clinical professor at UT School of Law.

The report also criticizes the City of Houston 311 hotline, citing 58 reports of health and safety issues, but none of those calls resulted in an inspection.

The City of Houston Public Works department responded to the report with the following statement:

We received a copy of the report today and are reviewing the findings and recommendations. This is not the first critical report that the University of Texas School of Law – Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic has released about apartment regulations in large Texas cities. But Houston is unique in Texas because it has the third highest number of occupied apartments in the country. About half of all Houstonians are renters. We will evaluate the recommendations as we continue the work of improve the programs and the services we offer the community.