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New water billing law signed June 1 limits lawsuits


New legislation now in effect will limit lawsuit abuse by requiring water billing disputes to first be considered by the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC).

On June 1, Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law the Texas Apartment Association’s top legislative priority this session, SB 873 by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe). The new law takes effect immediately.

The legislation limits lawsuit abuse by requiring rental housing residents with a complaint about water billing to first take that complaint to the Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) before filing a lawsuit or signing on to a class action lawsuit.

Under PUC rules, water costs at rental properties may be either submetered by individual unit or allocated across a property. The PUC governs all aspects of water billing by rental property owners, including billing methodology, disclosures to residents, requirements to repair leaks and requirements to provide water-efficient devices. In addition, rental property owners are not allowed to profit off a water bill, though the new law clarifies that they may charge fees for services unrelated to a water bill.

The new law does not change consumer protections in current law governing water submetering and allocation, or in the PUC’s water billing rules. It will require rental property residents with a complaint about billing errors or other rule violations to first go through the PUC’s extensive investigation and dispute resolution process before pursing civil remedies in court. In any dispute settled by the PUC, enforcement actions may only be taken against the property owner, not the property management company.

More information about the legislative session, new laws passed and their effects on the rental housing industry will be included in the Summer 2017 issue of Texas Apartments.