Chapters 91 and 92 of the Texas Property Code cover many of the laws that govern residential landlord-tenant relationships. Much of what a landlord can and can't do is covered in the individual agreement made with the renter, however. Landlord-tenant agreements or leases can be written or oral. Either way, the Texas Attorney General's office notes that the lease is the most important factor in determining the rights of each party.
A Texas landlord has specific rights guaranteed by state law, including:
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Texas state law does not limit how much a landlord can charge as a security deposit, although city and county laws may have more restrictions. The deposit must be returned within 30 days after the tenant has moved out. Landlords are permitted to retain security deposits to cover any damage to the property. If the deposit doesn't cover the full bill for repairs, a landlord can file suit in small claims court against the former tenant. The landlord first must present the tenant with an itemized list of the damages, the repairs needed and the cost of each item.
Right of Entry
Specific rights of entry are generally found in the lease agreement. Landlords commonly retain the right to enter the property to conduct necessary repairs, perform preventive maintenance or remove health or safety hazards, among other reasons. There isn't a state law that defines how much notice is required before the landlord can enter to perform necessary tasks, although tenant rights mandated by the state prevent landlords from unduly infringing on a tenant's right to quiet enjoyment of the property.
According to Title 8, Chapter 92 and Subchapter A of the Texas Property Code, a landlord can remove property from a dwelling if it's apparent the tenant has abandoned the premises. However, the Property Code doesn't specifically state what constitutes "abandonment." The interpretation may be up to an individual judge's opinion if it isn't defined in the lease. A landlord must give his tenant at least 30 days' notice before he sells any abandoned belongings to recover money he might be owed. Notice must be sent by certified mail with a return receipt requested, as well as by first class mail.
Nonexempt Property Seizure
Even when a dwelling isn't abandoned, Texas law allows landlords to enter rental units to seize nonexempt property to satisfy past-due rent when a written lease gives him permission to do so. While this excludes items like clothing, jewelry, family photographs and kitchen utensils -- all of which are exempt from seizure under state law -- other items may be taken, including:
- Personal computers and printers
- All sports equipment
- Musical instruments
- Some furniture, although one couch, two living room chairs, a dining table and chairs, all kitchen furniture and all beds are considered exempt.
The items must be found in the residence or in a storage room at the time of the seizure -- the landlord doesn't have the right to remove the radio from your car.
Texas law gives landlords the power to seek eviction in short order. If rent is due on the first of the month, the landlord can begin the eviction process if he doesn't receive the money by the following day. The landlord must serve a Notice to Vacate on the tenant. When the notice is received, the tenant has three days to pay the amount due -- if that's permitted under the lease -- or leave the property. Weekends and holidays are included in the three-day period.
If the tenant doesn't move out within the prescribed period, the landlord has the right to file a summons and complaint with the Texas Justice Court, knows as a forcible detainer suit. Only after a landlord wins that lawsuit can he have a law enforcement officer take forcible possession of the property. Self-help eviction practices, such as changing the locks or shutting off the utilities, are not permitted.
While landlords have considerable rights under the Texas Property Code, tenants have protections as well, including:
Peace and Quiet
Tenants in Texas have the right to quiet enjoyment of the property they're renting -- the ability to live there without disturbance. This serves two practical purposes, according to the Texas Attorney General's office. Your landlord can't evict you without cause or interrupt utility service in an attempt to get you to leave, and you don't have to tolerate it if other tenants behave badly.
Health and Safety
Texas law dictates that when your landlord rents you the property, he guarantees that the unit is safe to live in and will remain so. You have the right to demand that the landlord fix any condition that poses a health risk or otherwise makes the property unsafe. Justices of the peace have the authority to order landlords to make necessary changes, as long as the cost of the fix is less than $10,000. Tenants can take their landlords to justice court to get a repair order based on the provisions of SB 1448.
The Texas laws governing property repairs include some exceptions. If your lease includes an agreement that you'll be responsible for making specific repairs, this shifts the burden to you. A landlord isn't responsible for remedying a situation caused by your own negligence or the actions of your guests. If you play tackle football in the house and someone bursts a pipe thanks to a crushing tackle, the cost of the repairs will be yours.
With a few specific exceptions, tenants have the right to a dwelling equipped with security devices, such as dead bolts on exterior doors, sliding door pin locks and window latches. The landlord must pay to have these installed or repaired.