Updated 01/04/2013 09:50 AM
Tenant safeguards come to spotlight after NW Austin apartment fire
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Just days before Christmas, families at the International Residence Apartments in northwest Austin woke up to find their homes were on fire.
Now, in the New Year, many of the displaced are still trying to get their lives back in order.
Nekesha Phoenix says the Austin Tenants Council has not received any complaints from those families yet, but warns them not to sign anything before thoroughly reading it.
"People have lost everything,” she said. “They have absolutely nothing. They just know they need the money to be able to get another unit or for a hotel or motel temporarily."
Phoenix says many fire victims can't find a new home until they get their deposit back, adding landlords are obligated to return the money immediately if the property is deemed a complete loss.
"Once they turn in their notice that they are terminating their lease contract, that should be refunded to them rather quickly," she said.
Mike Chafin with Farmer's Insurance said having a renters policy can help ease the stressful time. He recommends choosing loss of use coverage.
"It will pay for the insured to relocate, possibly move to another apartment complex, maybe temporarily rent a house, while the apartment is being renovated," Chafin said.
Some complexes require tenants to at least carry liability coverage, which reimburses the landlord in the event of a loss. Chafin says it's worth the few dollars a month to also protect your belongings.
"I don't know if people think maybe they can't afford it, they are not familiar with it,” he said. “That coverage is out there for about $12 a month or so."
YNN reached out to managers of International Residence Apartments for comment. They referred us to corporate offices in California. Our calls have not been returned.