Take 5

Texas Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Tenant in Water Billing Lawsuit Against Apartment Complex

In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court of Texas has affirmed the trial court’s decision to grant partial summary judgment in favor of Paul Simien in his lawsuit against Mosaic Baybrook One, L.P., the owners and managers of his apartment complex. The ruling also upheld the trial court’s decision to certify a class of current and former Mosaic tenants who were subject to the challenged billing practices.

Simien had alleged that Mosaic had violated various Public Utility Commission rules that govern how landlords may bill tenants for water and wastewater service, and was therefore liable under section 13.505 of the Water Code. The trial court granted partial summary judgment on liability in Simien’s favor, rejecting Mosaic’s arguments that Simien lacked standing and that subsequent amendments to section 13.505 had deprived the trial court of subject-matter jurisdiction.

Mosaic had challenged the trial court’s decision to certify a class of current and former tenants, but the Court rejected this challenge, holding that the trial court’s temporal limitations on the class definition adequately accounted for Mosaic’s defenses. The Court also rejected Mosaic’s challenges to standing and subject-matter jurisdiction, and held that Mosaic failed to raise an issue of fact regarding whether it had a right to charge Simien the disputed fees.

The dissenting opinion, written by Justice Bland, argued that Simien’s bills complied with the Water Code and its implementing rules, which require metered-water charges to be calculated and presented independently, and that Simien failed to establish his sole claim of a Water Code violation as a matter of law.

This ruling has significant implications for tenants in Texas who may have been subject to similar billing practices by their landlords. It sets a precedent for landlords to ensure that their billing practices comply with the Water Code and its implementing rules, and for tenants to seek legal recourse if they believe that their landlords have violated these rules.

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