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State water code amendment: Another step in the right direction

Southeast Texas Record, June 26, 2017

Greg Abbott promised he would stick to the winning, pro-business ways of his predecessor, Rick Perry – embracing the same threefold goal of “lower taxes, less regulation, and more job creation” – and that's what he's doing.

“One of the reasons Texas attracts so many jobs is because of the strides we’ve made on tort reform,” Abbott said in his third State of the State address this January, calling for “cutting taxes and regulations on business” and “serious property tax reform.”

Abbott's latest step in the right direction was the signing of Senate Bill 873, modifying the state water code and giving the Texas Public Utility Commission sole authority to settle tenant claims against “owners and managers of apartment houses, manufactured home rental communities, condominiums, and multiple use facilities” for alleged overcharges for variously metered “water and wastewater services.”

Opposed by plaintiffs attorneys who've enriched themselves with class action suits against landlords, while gaining next-to-nothing for the allegedly overcharged clients, the bill overwhelmingly passed both legislative chambers prior to Abbott's signing.

Texas-based real estate software provider RealPage collaborated with the Texas Apartment Association to help draft the bill, testify at hearings, and lobby for its passage.

“In recent years, Texas apartment owners faced a deluge of lawsuits from lawyers who were twisting well-established definitions and practices in utility billing in an attempt to obtain the treasure-trove of exorbitant penalties contained in the former code,” notes a RealPage press release. “The new law eliminates the unjust incentives fueling this rampant lawsuit abuse and moves the regulation of water billing under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Texas Public Utility Commission, which has the authority and experience to issue judicious penalties reasonably related to the level and nature of a violation.”

According to RealPage, “Residents will also benefit from a new streamlined online and telephonic complaint and hearing system as well as clarity in enforcement and interpretation of the law.”

Kudos to Gov. Abbott and our state legislators who now should make sure that the Commission does as promised.