Several reports are surfacing of landlords charging rent to undocumented immigrants for apartments damaged by Hurricane Harvey.
In at least one instance, the landlords collected the rent, only to issue eviction notices to the undocumented tenants, all while knowing full well the tenants had little extra cash and no legal recourse to fight back.
Mark Grandich, a lawyer with Lone Star Legal Aid, a Houston nonprofit, described these tenants as “the perfect victims.”
“It’s so easy to take advantage of them,” he told the Houston Chronicle. “You have to be able to fight for your rights, and people who aren’t documented often don’t have that ability.”
Houston reportedly has a population of over 575,000 undocumented immigrants. This number may represent only a fraction of those undocumented immigrants in the area, as many of them would hesitate to report their status. The vast majority of these immigrants work long hours for low pay and barely scrape by to pay the rent for the few landlords willing to take them on as tenants.
Many undocumented immigrants also stayed in flooded or damaged apartments during the storm, as rumors circulated that immigration officers would check the legal status of any immigrants who arrived at storm shelters or emergency aid centers. In addition, they are not eligible to receive aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) due to their status.
The predicament leaves these immigrants vulnerable to predatory landlords.
“They fear fighting would get them to deeper trouble, which is why they are so vulnerable,” Grandich said. “People are in hard spots living in damaged apartments because they don’t have anywhere to go.”