Texas has passed some unique legislation which affects Texas landlord tenant law. The Texas Landowner’s Bill of Rights and the Texas Consumer Bill of Rights have both shaped the law as it pertains to Texas rental laws.
The relationship between Texas landlords and their tenants is governed by Chapter 92 of the Texas Property Code, SB 1448, and by various court rulings. However, the most important source governing landlord tenant law Texas provisions is the rental agreement, whether written or oral.
The following is a list of provisions that are specific to Texas rental statutes.
• Any change in a rental agreement must be made in writing, even if the lease is oral, and must be signed by all parties to the lease;
• A landlord may not evict a tenant without cause, as defined by the Texas Property Code. Nor can the landlord disturb the tenant’s right to live in peace and quiet;
• A landlord must provide a fit place to live and may not interrupt utilities (if provided by landlord), unless there is a bona fide emergency;
• Tenants have the right to demand that the landlord repair any condition that materially affects health and safety. Landlords do not have a duty to repair if damage was caused by tenant’s negligence;
SB 1448 (81st Regular Session), effective January 1, 2010, grants justices of the peace authority to order landlords to repair or remedy conditions affecting health and safety, as long as the cost of the repair does not exceed $10,000. Tenants can go to the Justice Court without an attorney to obtain a repair order.
• Texas landlords must provide working smoke detectors and the tenant may not waive this provision or disconnect the smoke detectors;
• Under Texas law, landlords must equip a dwelling with security devices such as window latches, keyed dead bolts on exterior doors, door viewers, sliding door pin locks and sliding door handle latches, or sliding door security bars. These devices must be installed at the landlord’s expense. If such devices are missing or are defective, tenants have the right to request their installation or repair;
• If a landlord fails to make repairs needed to protect health, safety or security, the tenant has remedies under Texas law, but must follow certain procedures that are set in Chapter 92 of the Texas Property Code.
The Texas Tenants Bill of Rights give tenants additional protections but have also added to the complexity of landlord and tenant laws in Texas. Some of these rights were already included in the Texas law, however the Tenants Bill of Rights expanded on the details of that law. A few of the provisions of this bill include the following:
• There are limits placed on a landlord’s ability to lock out a tenant for non-payment of rent. A landlord may do so only temporarily in order to force a face-to-face encounter with the tenant, and only if the lease expressly states that the landlord has this right. Three days prior to the lockout, the landlord must inform the tenant of tenant’s right to receive a key to the new lock at any time, regardless of whether or not the rent has been paid. In any case, the tenant is entitled to a new key within two hours of asking for one. The landlord may not disconnect utilities as a means of forcing the tenant out. If the landlord has cause to evict the tenant, the landlord must follow all the necessary legal steps. This includes giving the tenant a written notice at least three days prior to filing a lawsuit with the justice of the peace.
• The landlord may not remove any of his own property (such as doors, locks, or appliances) in order to enforce payment of rent. In some cases, the landlord may be allowed to take and resell some of the tenant's property to recover unpaid rent, if it is stated clearly in the lease that this is a right of the landlord. However, many personal items are exempt from this provision. Clothing, beds and bedding, toys, school books, kitchenware, food, medicine, and other essential items are protected from seizure.
• Landlords are required to repair or remedy any problems that might affect the health or well- being of the occupants. This would include sewage backups, pests, lack of hot water, faulty electrical writing and other serious problems. The law does not cover less serious issues like poorly painted walls or worn carpets. In addition, landlords must ensure that the premises are secure. A smoke detector must be installed outside each bedroom. However, if one corridor connects several bedrooms, a single smoke detector may suffice.
• The landlord may keep part of the security deposit only in cases where the tenant is responsible for damages to the property, and only when this provision is clearly stated in the lease. The landlord may not use the security deposit to repair problems resulting from normal wear and tear. Examples of normal wear and tear are worn carpets, small nail holes in the walls, or scratches in the sink. The security deposit must be refunded no later than 90 days after the tenant moves out. If the landlord has reason to keep part of the security deposit, he must refund the balance and provide a written description of the deductions within 30 days.
• In some special circumstances, a tenant may terminate the lease and leave without any obligation to pay future rent. In cases of domestic violence or abuse, the tenant must have a protective order or injunction against a co-tenant or occupant, signed by a judge. In the case of military deployment or transfer, the tenant must provide the landlord with a written notice of termination, as well as copies of the deployment or transfer documents.
The information provided in this article is meant to give landlords and tenants in the state of Texas a better understanding of rental law. The landlord tenant laws in Texas are complex and rely heavily on the terms of the rental agreement or lease provisions. If there is a question about any of the details of the law, or acts governing the law, it is advisable to contact an attorney who is familiar with residential property law for the State of Texas.
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