TOP 17: “What NOT to Do” as a Texas Rental Property Owner
Understanding these prohibitions is crucial for landlords who want to navigate the eviction process in Texas legally and ethically.
1- Locking out a tenant without proper notice
In Texas, landlords are prohibited from locking out tenants without proper notice as a means of eviction. According to Section 92.0081 of the Texas Property Code, a landlord must provide the tenant with written notice before changing the door locks. This notice must specify the earliest date the lockout may occur and the amount of rent owed.
If the landlord fails to comply with these requirements, they may be liable for damages, attorney’s fees, and even a $1,000 penalty.
2- Shutting off utilities as a form of eviction
In Texas, landlords are explicitly prohibited from shutting off utilities as an eviction method. According to Section 92.008 of the Texas Property Code, a landlord may not interrupt or cause the interruption of utility services, including water, gas, and electricity, to a tenant unless it is for bona fide repairs, construction, or an emergency.
Violating this provision can result in the landlord being liable for actual damages, one month’s rent plus $1,000, reasonable attorney’s fees, and court costs.
3- Entering without permission or removing a tenant’s belongings without a court order
In Texas, landlords are generally prohibited from entering a tenant’s unit without proper notice or consent, except in cases of emergency.
According to Section 92.0081 of the Texas Property Code, a landlord must give a tenant at least 24 hours’ written notice of their intent to enter the property unless otherwise agreed upon in the lease.
The entry must also be at reasonable times and for legitimate purposes, such as repairs or inspections.
Landlords may also not remove a tenant’s belongings from the property without a court order. Section 92.0082 states a landlord may not seize or impound a tenant’s personal property unless it is abandoned, and even then, they must follow procedure.
Removing a tenant’s belongings without a court order could result in the landlord facing liability for actual damages, one month’s rent plus $1,000, reasonable attorney’s fees, and court costs.
4- Harassing or intimidating the tenant to vacate
In Texas, landlords are prohibited from harassing or intimidating tenants to force them to vacate the property. Harassment may fall under Section 92.331 of the Texas Property Code, which deals with landlord retaliation.
Harassing behaviors could include constant unwarranted visits, verbal threats, or other actions meant to intimidate. Engaging in such behaviors could lead to legal repercussions, including potential claims for damages and attorney’s fees.
5- Discriminating against the tenant based on race, religion, or other protected classes
In Texas, landlords are not allowed to discriminate against tenants based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin during eviction. This is in line with the Federal Fair Housing Act and further enforced in the Texas Fair Housing Act, codified in Chapter 301 of the Texas Property Code.
Discriminatory actions during eviction could lead to severe legal consequences, including fines and potential lawsuits. Landlords must ensure that their reasons for eviction are consistent for all tenants and are not based on discriminatory factors.
6- Failing to maintain the property in a habitable condition
In Texas, landlords have a legal obligation to maintain the property in a habitable condition, even during the eviction process. According to Section 92.052 of the Texas Property Code, landlords must ensure the rental property is habitable and make all necessary repairs to fulfill this obligation.
Landlords who neglect this duty may face legal repercussions, including financial penalties and potential lawsuits.
7- Retaliating against a tenant for filing a complaint or exercising legal rights
In Texas, landlords are prohibited from retaliating against tenants exercising their legal rights, including during eviction. Section 92.331 of the Texas Property Code explicitly states that a landlord may not retaliate against a tenant for actions such as filing a complaint for repairs or joining a tenant’s organization.
Retaliatory actions could include raising the rent, decreasing services, or filing an eviction notice without proper cause. If a landlord is found to have retaliated against a tenant, they may be liable for one month’s rent plus $500, actual damages, and attorney’s fees.
8- Charging excessive late fees or other penalties not outlined in the lease
In Texas, landlords are restricted in the amount they can charge for late fees, even during eviction. Section 92.019 states late fees in the lease agreement must be “reasonable.”
The law further clarifies that a late fee is considered reasonable if it does not exceed 12% of the rent for the rental period under the lease for a dwelling or 10% for all other rentals.
Charging excessive late fees could result in liability for actual damages, return of all late fees, $100, reasonable attorney’s fees, and court costs.
9- Failing to provide a written notice to vacate before filing an eviction suit
In Texas, landlords are required to provide a written notice to vacate before filing an eviction suit. Section 24.005 states that the tenant must receive the notice at least three days before filing an eviction unless the lease agreement stipulates a different period.
10- Filing an eviction suit without proper grounds
In Texas, landlords must have proper legal grounds for filing an eviction suit against a tenant. According to Section 24.002, a landlord may recover possession of a rental unit only if the tenant “holds over beyond the end of the rental term” or violates a lease agreement provision.
11- Misrepresenting the condition of the property to induce the tenant to leave
In Texas, landlords are prohibited from misrepresenting the property’s condition to induce the tenant to vacate. Such actions could be deceptive trade practices under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (Section 17.46 of the Texas Business and Commerce Code).
Misrepresenting the property’s condition could include falsely claiming that the property is unsafe or uninhabitable when it is not, intending to force the tenant to leave.
12- Failing to return the security deposit promptly without a valid reason
In Texas, landlords must promptly return the security deposit to the tenant, even if the tenant has been evicted. According to Section 92.103, the landlord must return the security deposit to the tenant within 30 days after the tenant has surrendered the property.
Failure to return the deposit within this time frame without a valid reason could result in the landlord being liable for an amount equal to $100, three times the portion of the deposit wrongfully withheld, and the tenant’s reasonable attorney’s fees.
13-Using deceptive or unfair practices to remove a tenant
In Texas, landlords are prohibited from using deceptive or unfair practices to remove a tenant from the property. Such actions could fall under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (Section 17.46 of the Texas Business and Commerce Code).
This could include making false statements or promises to induce the tenant to vacate the property. If a landlord is found to have engaged in deceptive practices, they could face legal consequences, including damages, civil penalties, and attorney’s fees.
15- Ignoring a tenant’s right to repair and deduct for essential services
Tenants have the right to “repair and deduct” for essential services that the landlord fails to provide, and this right remains intact even during the eviction process. Section 92.056 states that if a landlord fails to repair a condition that materially affects an ordinary tenant’s physical health or safety, the tenant may repair the situation themselves and deduct the cost from their rent.
However, the landlord must receive a written notice, and the tenant must wait a reasonable time for the repair to be made.
16- Failing to provide essential services like heat, water, and electricity
In Texas, landlords must provide essential services such as heat, water, and electricity, even during eviction. Section 92.052 states landlords must maintain the rental property in a “habitable” condition, which includes providing essential services.
Failure to provide these services could give the tenant the right to terminate the lease, repair the issue, deduct the cost from the rent, or take the landlord to court for damages.
17- Ignoring court orders or judgments related to the eviction
In Texas, landlords are required to adhere to court orders or judgments related to the eviction process. While the Texas Property Code doesn’t have a specific section that directly addresses this issue, failure to comply with a court order could result in contempt of court charges or other legal penalties.
For example, if a court orders a specific eviction timeline or mandates that the landlord take certain actions, non-compliance could lead to fines, legal fees, and even jail time in extreme cases.
Landlord Tenant Law: Knowing What NOT to Do is Half the Battle
The list above is not exhaustive. Always consult a qualified real estate eviction attorney for specific guidance on landlord-tenant laws in Texas. Acting without thought could cause bigger headaches down the road!
Now that you know the illegal way to handle landlord-tenant situations, let’s look at how to evict a tenant legally.
The Legal Way to Handle Tenant Eviction in Texas
In Texas, the eviction process is governed by specific laws that landlords must follow. These laws help you remove a tenant from a rental property legally.
The first step is to provide the tenant with a written notice to vacate, which must be delivered at least three days before filing an eviction suit, as per Section 24.005.
If the tenant fails to vacate within the notice period, you can file an eviction suit in the appropriate justice court.
It’s crucial to serve the tenant with a copy of the court summons and complaint. This copy outlines the reason for eviction and the court hearing date.
If the court rules in your favor, they will issue you a writ of possession. At that point, the tenant will need to vacate the property. Throughout this process, landlords must adhere to all legal procedures and timelines to ensure a lawful eviction.
Legal Reasons for Evicting a Tenant in Texas
Texas law outlines several legal grounds for evicting a tenant:
- Failure to Pay Rent: One of the most common reasons for eviction, as stipulated in Section 24.005, is unpaid rent. As a property manager or owner, you know when the tenant fails to keep their end of the financial rental agreement.
- Lease Violations: Any violation of the terms agreed upon in the lease can be grounds for eviction as long as it is specified in the lease agreement. Local landlord-tenant laws vary, so always check with your municipality for local laws and a local eviction attorney before making legal decisions.
- Holding Over: If a tenant stays beyond the lease term without the landlord’s consent, they can be evicted as per Section 24.002 of the Texas Property Code. Rental property law can make it difficult to evict a tenant without legal help. Pay attention to fair housing laws and your lease before evicting a tenant for not paying a monthly rent.
- Criminal Activity: Involvement in criminal activities on the property can also be a valid reason for eviction.
- Health and Safety Violations: If a tenant’s actions endanger the health and safety of other tenants or the property itself, eviction proceedings can be initiated. In addition, damage to the home can reduce your rental income, so always talk with an eviction attorney for the best experience when evicting a problem tenant.
- Unauthorized Occupants: Having unauthorized people living in the rental unit can also be grounds for eviction if it violates the lease terms.
Landlords should always consult with a qualified attorney to ensure they follow all legal requirements during eviction.
We Can Help
At Jarrett Law, our experienced eviction attorney team is well-versed in the intricacies of Texas eviction laws. We understand that eviction is a complex and often stressful process for landlords. That’s why we’re committed to guiding you every step of the way, from serving the initial notice to vacate to representing you in court if necessary. We ensure that you navigate the eviction process in a legally compliant and respectful manner.
We offer comprehensive legal services covering all eviction aspects, including drafting notices, filing eviction suits, and executing writs of possession. With our expertise, you can be confident that you are adhering to all state and local laws, minimizing your risk of legal repercussions.
In addition, we offer mediation services to help landlords manage difficult situations without judicial involvement. This can often save property owners and managers time and money.
Don’t navigate the complicated eviction process alone; let the professionals at Jarrett Law provide the legal support you need to protect your property and your rights as a landlord.