Landlord-tenant disputes are common and can become very emotional. Knowing the legal rights and obligations described below will help you avoid these types of disputes.
The LeaseThe relationship between Texas landlords and their tenants is governed by several statutes and court rulings. However, the most important source of information about your relationship with your landlord is your rental agreement, whether it is written or oral. Some landlords prefer oral agreements, but it is more common for them to require your signature on a written lease.
Be sure to read the lease carefully before you sign it. If you want to change a part of the lease, discuss it with the landlord. If the landlord agrees, the two of you should decide how you want to word the change, and then write it into the agreement. Both you and the landlord should then initial the change. For example, many standard leases prohibit pets, but your landlord may be willing to accept a pet if you put down extra money as security.
Your Right to Peace & Quiet
Your rights as a tenant include the right to "quiet enjoyment" as it is called in the law. This means the landlord cannot evict you without cause or otherwise disturb your right to live in peace and quiet.
If other tenants in your building are disturbing you, you should complain to the landlord. The landlord has a duty to see that you are protected from other tenant's wrongful behavior. Of course, you may not disturb other tenants, either.
Except under certain circumstances and subject to certain conditions, a landlord may not interrupt utilities to a tenant unless the interruption results from bona fide repairs, construction, or an emergency.
Your Right to Health & Safety
You have a right to demand that the landlord repair any condition that materially affects your health and safety. Under Texas law, by renting you the property, the landlord guarantees that the unit will be a fit place to live. Under certain conditions, you and the landlord may have a written agreement that you will make needed repairs.
The landlord does not have a duty to pay for or make repairs if you or your guests cause an unsafe or unhealthy condition through negligence, carelessness, abuse or accidentunless the condition resulted from "normal wear and tear." Also, the landlord must provide smoke detectors. You may not waive that provision, and you may not disconnect or disable the smoke detector.
Your Right to Security
Although there are some specific exceptions, under Texas law, a dwelling must be equipped with security devices such as window latches, keyed dead bolts on exterior doors, sliding door pin locks and sliding door handle latches or sliding door security bars, and door viewers. These devices must be installed at the landlord's expense. If such devices are missing or are defective, you have the right to request their installation or repair.
If You Have Problems
If the landlord won't make repairs needed to protect your health, safety, or security, and you follow the procedures required by law, you may be entitled to:
- End the lease;
- Have the problem repaired and deduct the cost of the repair from the rent; or
- File suit to force the landlord to make the repairs.
You MUST Follow These Steps:
- Send the landlord a letter, by certified mail, return receipt requested, outlining the needed repairs. Or you may deliver it personally. Be sure to keep a copy of the letter.
- If the landlord does not respond within a reasonable time (a week or two), send another letterin person or by certified mail. In this letter, you should let the landlord know whether you intend to end the lease, repair the problem and deduct the cost from the rent, or file suit if the repairs are not made.
- If the landlord does not make the repairs within seven days after receiving the second letter, you should contact an attorney before taking the next step.
Under Texas law, it is illegal for a landlord to retaliate against you for complaining about necessary repairs. Of course, you can always be evicted if you fail to pay your rent on time, threaten the safety of the landlord or intentionally damage the property.
You do not have a right to withhold rent because the landlord fails to make repairs when the condition needing repair does not materially affect your health and safety. If you try this method, the landlord may file suit against you.
Recovering Your Deposit
Most landlords require you to pay a security deposit to cover any repairs needed when you move out or to cover your failure to pay the last month's rent. By law, landlords cannot refuse to return the deposit without a valid reason.
Under Texas law, you must give the landlord a forwarding address and the landlord must return the depositless amount deducted for damageswithin 30 days. If the landlord withholds part or all of your deposit, he or she must give you an itemized list of deductions with a description of the damages.
The landlord may not charge you for normal wear and tear on the premises and may only charge for actual abnormal damage. For example, if the carpet simply becomes more worn because you and your guests walked on it for a year, the landlord may not charge you for a new carpet. If your water bed leaks and the carpet becomes mildewed as a result, you may be charged.
You should check your rental agreement to see if it requires you to give the landlord advance notice that you are moving. Many leases require 30 days notice as a condition of returning your deposit. If you give your landlord your new address in writing and you do not receive your deposit or an explanation within 30 days of your departure, contact the landlord.
If you cannot resolve the problem satisfactorily, call your lawyer. Contact the Better Business Bureau, or the Office of the Attorney General nearest you; both agencies offer a mediation service to help resolve such problems. For more information, contact your nearest regional Consumer Protection office of the Office of the Attorney General.