Dozens of renters in North Austin say they've lived without hot water for years
Ella Stewart typically showers at her gym. That’s because the water at her apartment in North Austin is either scalding hot or freezing cold – never a temperature comfortable for bathing.
“I just took a shower and it was super hot and super cold, and I had to keep going back and forth, which was very annoying,” Stewart, 21, said.
Stewart joined about a dozen neighbors Wednesday afternoon to protest living conditions at Creeks Edge Apartments, just north of 183. The group held handmade signs that ticked off their demands: refunds on rent, immediate repairs and action from Austin’s Code Department.
It’s unclear if they will get any of what they’re asking for. The complex, which consists of 200 units, is owned by a corporation that traces back to GVA Management, a real estate management and investment company with an office in Austin. GVA did not respond to a request for comment.
Organizers with the nonprofit Building and Strengthening Tenant Action, or BASTA, estimate that nearly half of the people living in these apartments have not had consistent hot water.
Like Stewart, Blanca Cambron also showers at a gym – a nearby Planet Fitness.
“There is no hot water. And sometimes there is no water at all,” she said in Spanish. Cambron described how she and her husband lived without water for a month after the winter freeze in 2021. The storm damaged pipes at many old apartment buildings in the city, at times stranding tenants without water for weeks.
This is not the first time tenants and BASTA have brought attention to the living conditions at Creeks Edge Apartments. Because of a history of slow response to code violations, the apartment complex has been on a city list of negligent landlords since 2014. Referred to as Austin’s Repeat Offender Program, apartment buildings on this list are subject to extra scrutiny by the city’s Code Department, including an annual fee and regular inspections.
But tenants and advocates for them have long complained that the department is too lenient with landlords who fail to make repairs to basic services; a 2020 city audit of the program found it to be ineffective.
One way the city can be more effective, tenant advocates say, is by revoking a landlord’s right to rent to new tenants. The Code Department did this with the landlords at Creek Edge Apartments in 2020. Gabby Garcia, a program coordinator with BASTA, said under this sanction the landlord made repairs quickly.
“It’s a powerful tool if it’s used correctly,” she said.
But in a statement to KUT, a spokesperson for Austin’s Code Department said it was not yet at the point where it would take this action at the North Austin apartment complex. She said the property management company was working on a fix.
“The Department was informed that the representatives are working with a plumber to address calcium buildup in the lines at the two buildings, which currently have no hot water,” Tara Long, a spokesperson for the department, wrote in an email.