Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Facts about Texas Landlord and Tenant Law in Residential Leases

If you are a tenant leasing residential property in Texas, or you are a landlord of residential property, you should know your rights and duties under the law.   Here is a (partial) list of what the Texas law has to say about the residential landlord/tenant relationship and some resources on where to find more information.

  1. Some leases may not be in writing: If the lease term is for one year or less, it is not required by Texas law to be in writing (however, be aware that an oral lease may lead to a swearing match of "he said, she said" in court if things go wrong. 
  2. Lease clauses are independent of each other: A tenant is not excused from paying rent if the landlord breaches the agreement. 
  3. Certain Duties of the Landlord cannot be waived by agreement: Certain things are so important under Texas law that even an agreement between landlord and tenant cannot change the requirements. For example:  a) a landlord's duty to account for the security deposit at lease termination b) installing of security devices c) disclosing ownership & management of the property d) certain restrictions limiting the right of a landlord to interrupt utility service e) certain repairs, especially relating to health and safety issues, and f) non-discrimination provisions in state and federal law
  4. Habitability of the Premises: A landlord must make a diligent effort to repair conditions that materially affect the health & safety of the tenant (including issues that arise due to landlord's failure to provide hot water)  if the tenant gives notice of the condition to the landlord.  The tenant may be required to give notice in writing (depending on what is stated in a written lease). The tenant must give two notices unless the first notice was sent by certified mail, return receipt requested or registered mail.  The landlord has a reasonable amount of time to repair but a "reasonable amount of time" is usually assumed to be 7 days. Under Texas law (Property Code Section 92.0561) the tenant can have a specific procedure to repair and deduct from rent but if this is not done properly the tenant could end up being evicted, so careful!! (this is NOT the same as deciding not to pay rent).
  5. Retaliation eviction is illegal: It is illegal for a landlord to file an eviction suit to retaliate against a tenant for asking for repairs. 
  6. Security devices are required: A landlord is required to install specific types of locks on doors and windows, and they must be at specific heights. The landlord must also re-key locks within 7 days of each tenant turnover date. 
  7. Smoke alarms:  A landlord must install a smoke alarm in rental units at the time of renting and must also accommodate a hearing impaired person by installing smoke alarms in bedrooms that would alert a hearing impaired person. 
  8. Locking out the Tenant: A landlord may be able change the lock on a tenant's door if the tenant is delinquent with some or all of the rent. (for leases entered into after January 1, 2008 that right to do so must be contained in the lease.)  The landlord must give the tenant notice of the proposed lockout 5 days before (if mailed) OR 3 days before (if notice is placed on the inside of the tenant's main door). 
  9. Eviction: A landlord cannot forcibly evict a tenant without following a specific legal process and getting a court order.  Eviction suits are filed in Justice of the Peace Courts and there are specific notice requirements and other procedures that must be followed.

Why is it so important to know your rights as a landlord or tenant?  Because misinformation and misunderstanding lead to a lot of legal problems and cost money!  A well-meaning landlord who fails to keep up with his/her duties under the law can end up with a bad situation, lost rents, court costs and/or other fines. A tenant who does not stand up for his/her legal rights could be living in a miserable situation, not knowing that it can be challenged.  On the other hand, a landlord or tenant that is too confident of the rightness of his/her position can ignore problems and make costly and even dangerous errors. 

A very valuable resource for more detailed information is Texastenant.org  

The above information relates to residential leases. Laws and procedures that relate to commercial leases are different. 

Thank you to Clinical Associate Professor Rick McElvaney of University of Houston Law Center for information about Texas Residential Landlord/Tenant law upon which this blog is based. 

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