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Can your landlord shut off your water to prevent the pipes from bursting?

A note posted at the Croix apartment complex tells residents that the manager, Pioneer Beck, will be shutting of the water to avoid pipe issues during freezing temperatures.
Patricia Lim
A note posted at the Croix apartment complex tells residents that the manager, Pioneer Beck, will be shutting of the water to avoid pipe issues during freezing temperatures.

As Austinites brace for a weekend of below-freezing temperatures, some renters got notice they would have to go without running water.

The company that manages the Croix condominium complex on the westside of the UT Austin campus posted signs saying it would turn off the water from Thursday afternoon until Monday morning to drain the pipes.

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In an email to KUT, a representative for Pioneer Beck wrote that this was a preemptive measure. He recalled the freeze in 2021, which damaged pipes in older multifamily buildings, leaving renters without running water for weeks as they waited for repairs.

“We fear a repeat of two years ago,” Paul Meisler, president of Pioneer Beck, wrote. To be "cautions (sic) and avoid experiencing massive breaks in plumbing, the Board of Directors for the Association determined this as the best course of action.”

But is that legal? In short, no.

“Landlords shutting off water in advance of the freeze … that is actually against the law,” Mincho Jacob, a deputy director at Building and Strengthening Tenant Action, said.

According to state law, a landlord cannot shut off utilities without agreement from the renter unless there is an emergency, repair or construction.

“A preemptive measure does not count as an emergency. Your infrastructure is supposed to be able to [handle that],” Jacob said. “If there’s a major rainstorm coming, the landlord can’t be like, ‘You can’t be in the house because your roof is going to leak.’”

Meisler said the water may not be shut off for the entire three days outlined in the posted signs; instead, he wrote, the company would “likely” shut off the water only when the temperature is below freezing. Temperatures during the day Saturday and Sunday are expected to be in the mid 30s and 40s.

Madison O’Neil, who studies psychology at UT Austin, lives in the building on West 24th Street. She said she plans to fill up her bathtub with water, so she can flush the toilet later. While having to live without running water is inconvenient, she said, she understands why the management company is planning to shut it off.

“It is such an old building and not everyone is here,” she said. “It makes sense to just shut everything down.”

Copyright 2022 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Audrey McGlinchy is the City Hall reporter at KUT, covering the Austin City Council and the policies they discuss. She comes to Texas from Brooklyn, where she tried her hand at publishing, public relations and nannying. Audrey holds English and journalism degrees from Wesleyan University and the City University of New York. She got her start in journalism as an intern at KUT Radio during a summer break from graduate school. While completing her master's degree in New York City, she interned at the New York Times Magazine and Guernica Magazine.