AUSTIN (KXAN) — A state lawmaker calls it a state of emergency: renters going without air conditioning in this brutal heat, sometimes for several days.

State Rep. Sheryl Cole said she plans to file legislation to punish those who allow it to go on too long.

Thelma Reyes recently went days without air conditioning. It was so bad, even her macaw, Precious, was feeling it.

“She was panting a lot. Her mouth was open,” Reyes said. “It’s not good. We’re dying of heat in here.”

Reyes contacted management at her apartment, Mueller Flats, in east Austin.

“They sent out a maintenance man, and he was busy out in the apartment complex fixing seven other air conditioners,” Reyes recalled.

The problem persisted for five days, and Reyes documented the discomfort. She has pictures and videos of her thermostat showing how hot it got in her apartment.

Thermostat in Reyes' home (Courtesy Thelma Reyes)
Thermostat in Reyes’ home (Courtesy Thelma Reyes)

“It was above 90,” she said.

KXAN Investigates contacted Mueller Flats several times by calling, emailing, and visiting the management office and are still waiting on a response.

Mueller Flats is already on the Austin Code Department’s repeat offender list, which happens when a property doesn’t correct violations within an allotted time or has multiple violations or citations.

Reyes reported her experience to the city and kept calling management.

“I called every day — ‘so now what? What are we going to do? How’s it going? Who’s going to come?'” she said.

Reyes is not an isolated case. The Austin Tenants Council said it gets, on average, five calls a day from renters complaining of no AC in the Austin area, and this month it received around 60 complaints so far.

Finally, with the help of her daughter, Reyes contacted her state representative, Sheryl Cole. Cole’s office reached out to the apartment complex. Reyes’ air is working again.

While Cole said she’s glad to help, “They shouldn’t have to do that. They should not have to contact me to get something done.”

KXAN Investigator Mike Rush asked the state representative, “What is the solution? What can be done on the state level to fix this?”

“Well, we’d have to file a bill,” Cole said. “We don’t have penalties for failure to abide by the property code provisions. There are Texas Property Code laws that show this is a violation of that, but there are no penalties.”

Rep. Cole said she plans to file legislation calling for penalties at the start of the next legislative session, which begins in January 2023. It’s all with the aim of protecting those like Reyes and so many other renters.

KXAN Investigator Mike Rush and Texas State Rep. Sheryl Cole (KXAN Photo/Mike Rush)
KXAN Investigator Mike Rush and Texas State Rep. Sheryl Cole (KXAN Photo/Ed Zavala)

“I want something done,” Reyes said. “I mean, people can’t be like that. They have to have a heart.”