The Texas Tenant Advisor is the hyper-linked tenant rights information resource of the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service. It provides answers to many of the questions asked by Texas renters about their legal rights and responsibilities under Texas law.
Either select an area from the topics table to see questions pertaining to a particular area or scroll down the page and read the questions and answers. If you need information about court cases and law check out out Landlord/Tenant Attorney Desk Reference Manual.
For more detailed tenant rights information call (and join) the Texas Tenants Union at (214) 827-3846.
Please check the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service for more up-to-date information. IMPORTANT: PLEASE READ DISCLAIMER BEFORE PROCEEDING
Pick an area from the topics table below:
Security Deposits Leases Eviction Rent Safety/Locks Repairs Insurance Miscellaneous
What is the purpose of a security deposit? ANSWER
Can I assume that my security deposit will automatically cover the last month's rent?ANSWER
I've just moved out of my rental unit. When can I expect to receive my security deposit?ANSWER
Are there any qualifications to my receiving my security deposit?ANSWER
Is it true that if I do not provide my forwarding address, I lose my deposit?ANSWER
I've received my security deposit, but not the full amount. Is my landlord required to provide an itemized account of deductions?ANSWER
Can the landlord deduct from my security deposit for normal wear and tear on the unit?ANSWER
How can I avoid hassles with the landlord and expedite the return of my security deposit?ANSWER
If my landlord fails to return my deposit within 30 days, can I receive more than the amount of the security deposit?ANSWER
My rental unit is about to be sold, will I lose my security deposit?ANSWER
I've decided not to take an apartment, after all, despite signing the lease. Can I get my security deposit back?ANSWER
RETURN TO TOPICS TABLE
What is the purpose of a security deposit?
The security deposit law serves as a protection for the landlord. The deposit can be used to cover costs for which the tenant is liable by providing some sort of collateral to protect a landlord's property against abuse by the tenant and by recapturing actual financial losses as a result of the tenant's breach of a lease. Texas law protects the right of renters to get their deposit back.
Can I assume that my security deposit will automatically cover the last month's rent?
No, not automatically. Normally, the tenant cannot deduct the security deposit from the last month's rent without permission from the landlord. Assuming that the security deposit will cover the rent / balance of the rent and therefore withholding payment, constitutes a lease violation for which the tenant may be evicted. In addition, a tenant who withholds the last month's rent may be liable for an amount equal to three times the amount of the rent wrongfully withheld and the landlord's reasonable attorney's fees.
I've just moved out of my rental unit. When can I expect to receive my security deposit?
According to the Texas Property Code, a tenant has the right to receive his / her security deposit (or the balance of the security deposit with a list of itemized deductions) on / before the 30th day after leaving a dwelling, provided the tenant has given the landlord written notice of her forwarding address for the return of her deposit. For more information, see Procedure to Refund.
Are there any qualifications to my receiving my security deposit?
Yes. You should receive your security deposit provided you have met the following conditions:
Your lease term has ended You have given thirty days written notice prior to leaving the dwelling You do not owe any back rent or other charges You have not damaged the apartment in excess of normal wear and tear
Is it true that if I do not provide my forwarding address, I lose my deposit?
No, but the landlord is not required to return a deposit until 30 days after the tenant
moves out or 30 days after the landlord receives the tenant's forwarding address in writing.
I've received my security deposit, but not the full amount. Is my landlord required to provide an itemized account of deductions?
Yes, unless the tenant owes rent and there is no dispute over the amount owed. Otherwise, the landlord must provide an itemized list of deductions within 30 days. If the landlord doesn't include an account of itemized deductions within 30 days, s/he may forfeit the right to withhold any part of the deposit and may be liable for court costs, statutory penalties and attorney's fees. If the deposit is not returned in full within 30 days, and the court finds that the landlord acted in bad faith, the landlord can be held liable for $100 and three times the amount of the deposit wrongfully withheld, plus attorney's fees and court costs.
Can the landlord deduct from my security deposit for normal wear and tear on the unit?
No. Landlords cannot charge for normal wear and tear on the apartment. For example, the landlord should not charge for such routine procedures as shampooing the carpet or painting the unit, unless there are egregious stains, damages, etc.
How can I avoid hassles with the landlord and expedite the return of my security deposit?
The following precautionary measures will help:
- When you move into an apartment, make an inventory of everything that is broken, damaged, etc.
- Report such findings to the landlord immediately and, as an extra precaution, have him / her sign the inventory.
- Keep the inventory in a safe place as a precautionary measure.
- Before leaving the apartment, meet with the landlord to decide on terms for inspection.
(For example, jointly define "clean", draw up an inventory of tasks and have the landlord
sign it. Keep a copy of this list to ward against future problems.)
- Go through the apartment with the landlord after cleaning and do any extra cleaning
that s/he may request.
- Have the landlord sign the list upon completion of the tasks. Keep a copy of this sheet in case further problems should arise.
- Return the keys to the landlord on the day you are supposed to vacate (Some leases
include a key charge.).
- Take photos of the apartment after you have cleaned it.
If my landlord fails to return my deposit within 30 days, can I receive more than the amount of the security deposit?
Not necessarily. A tenant will receive more than the amount of the security deposit only if it can be proven in court that the landlord acted in bad faith.
My rental unit is about to be sold. Will I lose my security deposit?
No. Under Texas law, there is no requirement that the landlord put the security deposit into an escrow account to be transferred to the new owner. Nor is there an automatic transfer of security deposits to new owners. The old landlord is still responsible for returning all security deposits to tenants until the new owner gives the tenant a signed statement that s/he has received and is responsible for the security deposits.
I've decided not to take an apartment, after all, despite signing the lease. Can I get my security deposit back?
Texas does not have a Buyer's Remorse Law, so the lease becomes binding as soon as it is signed. Many rental application forms allow the landlord to keep the entire deposit if the tenant is approved and then decides not to sign the lease. Even if there is no written agreement about the deposit, the landlord is entitled to recover out-of-pocket expenses (including advertising and lost rent) after taking the property off the market.
However, if the tenant secures a replacement tenant, approved by the landlord, the landlord may not keep the deposit if the replacement tenant occupies the unit by the date the lease was to begin. On the other hand, if the landlord secures the replacement tenant, s/he may keep a sum agreed to in the lease as a cancellation fee or the actual expenses incurred by the landlord.
More information on Security Deposits.
My lease says one thing, but my landlord has promised something different. Should I take her at her word or have her change the lease to reflect this oral agreement?ANSWER
My landlord is not renewing my lease. As far as I'm aware though, I've done nothing improper as a tenant. Can s/he do this?ANSWER
If I break my lease, will I lose my security deposit?ANSWER
My apartment was just burglarized and I've lost a good deal of my belongings and am suffering emotional anguish. Can I break my lease without any legal consequences?ANSWER
I keep asking my landlord to repair things in my apartment and she refuses. Now she wants to terminate my lease. Is this legal?ANSWER
My landlord has begun construction of an adjacent building. The noise and smoke are horrible. Can I break my lease?ANSWER
A new owner just bought my apartment. Does the new owner have to give me a new lease?ANSWER
RETURN TO TOPICS TABLE
My lease says one thing, but my landlord has promised something different. Should I take her at her word or have her change the lease to reflect this oral agreement?
"Get it in writing" is the best modus operandi when dealing in such situations. Remember that you are liable for all terms of what is written in the lease, despite what the landlord says. Verbal agreements are very difficult to prove and enforce and most leases state that written -- vs. verbal agreements -- hold pre-eminence. Therefore, always get both parties to agree to and sign changes in writing. If your landlord won't put a promise in writing, s/he probably has no intention of sticking by it.
My landlord is not renewing my lease. As far as I'm aware though, I've done nothing improper as a tenant. Can s/he do this?
Yes. The landlord -- and tenant -- can terminate the lease at the end of the lease term without reason as long as the termination is not based on illegal discrimination or retaliation for a tenant's exercising certain legal rights. Notice should be given (See lease for exact amount of notice) if this is to occur.
The exception to this occurs if you live in public housing or federally subsidized housing. Tenants living in federally assisted apartments or public housing cannot be evicted without "good cause" when their lease expires. Public housing tenants also have the right to file grievances against the housing authority to settle disputes over utility bills, repairs, and in some evictions.
A different standard on non-renewal of leases also applies to tenants who have a Section 8 certificate or voucher. Because Congress is in the process of changing the law on non-renewals for Section 8 tenants, a Section 8 tenant should consult with a Legal Aid lawyer with any questions.
If I break my lease, will I lose my security deposit?
Even if your lease doesn't say so, you will lose the security deposit and may be held liable for any damages incurred by the landlord because of this breach of the lease. You may also be liable to the landlord for lost rent as long as the property is not rented during the duration of the lease. (See Security Deposit section for more information)
My apartment was just burglarized and I've lost a good deal of my belongings and am suffering emotional anguish. Can I break my lease without any legal consequences?
No, not if the landlord has done nothing wrong. However, you may have grounds to move early if the landlord misrepresented security or crime concerns and this information influenced your decision to rent the apartment. However, such decisions on misrepresentation are best decided by a court of law.
I keep asking my landlord to repair things in my apartment and she refuses. Now she wants to terminate my lease. Is this legal?
The landlord may not attempt to evict or refuse to renew a lease in retaliation for the tenant having requested repairs within the previous six months. (See Repairs section for more information)
My landlord has begun construction of an adjacent building. The noise and smoke are horrible. Can I break my lease?
Yes. This is known as constructive eviction and can occur when the landlord does / fails to do anything that substantially interfere with your use and enjoyment of the premises, thus forcing you to move. However, you must move within a reasonable time period in which the problem occurred. You can sue the landlord for any damages caused by his / her action, such as moving expenses and lost work time in looking for a new dwelling.
A new owner just bought my apartment. Does the new owner have to give me a new lease?
If a new landlord buys the property, s/he has to honor your current lease until it expires. However, if the property is acquired through foreclosure, the new owner may not have to honor the lease. In the case of acquisition through foreclosure, if you are asked by the new owner to move, you are entitled to a 30 day notice, unless you yourself have violated the terms of the lease, in which case the new landlord is required to give you only a 3 day notice to vacate.
More information on Leases
How does the whole eviction procedure work?ANSWER
How do I appeal an eviction?ANSWER
My landlord has begun eviction proceedings against me. Can she lock me out of my apartment?ANSWER
What if my landlord refuses to let me back into the unit?ANSWER
Is there such a thing as an illegal eviction?ANSWER
Is the landlord ever justified in seizing my property during an eviction?ANSWER
Can the landlord sell my possessions in order to recover back rent?ANSWER
My landlord is threatening to evict me because I've fallen behind on my rent. But now I'm paid up in full. Can he still proceed with the eviction?ANSWER
Doesn't my landlord have to give me 30 days notice before evicting me?ANSWER
If my landlord doesn't evict me per se, can he remove doors and windows in an attempt to force me out?ANSWER
Can my landlord cut off my utilities in an attempt to evict me? ANSWER
I have very noisy neighbors. Shouldn't my landlord evict them?ANSWER
RETURN TO TOPICS TABLE
How does the whole eviction procedure work?
There are several steps in the eviction procedure -- outlined below:
- In order to evict a tenant who does not move after the landlord has given notice to move, a landlord must first go through the civil court eviction
process and files eviction suit at JP Court
- Landlord must first serve a tenant with a Notice to Vacate
- If the tenant does not move by the date indicated in the
Notice to Vacate, the landlord may file a Forcible Detainer suit.
- Law Officer then serves tenant with eviction suit
At that point, the tenant generally has 7 days to file an answer to the court (unless the landlord files a six day possession bond or the JP uses a shorter or longer period) at the local Justice of the Peace office. The citation will tell the tenant the deadline by which the tenant must answer or appear for trial. This must be no less than six nor more than ten days. In Travis County, the Justices of the Peace require that an answer be filed by 10:00 AM on the seventh day after service. At this point, the tenant should seek legal counsel from a local tenants' council or attorney. One of two outcomes will occur here:
Tenant fails to contact JP Court by 7th day:
A default judgment is entered. The tenant may appeal within 5 days of the date of judgment by taking the appropriate steps. If there's no appeal in 5 days, the landlord may get a Writ of Possession in which a law officer serves the tenant with the writ of possession and supervises the removal of the tenant's property from the rental unit. In such a case, all tenants and personal items will be removed by the landlord under the supervision of a law officer.
Tenant contacts the JP by the 7th day:
The tenant may answer the lawsuit in writing, verbally (over the phone or in person), or through an attorney. Both the tenant and landlord will appear before the Justice of the Peace at a court-determined time and present their case. In some counties the trial is held on the answer date, so the tenant must appear and be ready for trial. The citation will tell the tenant whether s/he must appear for trial on the answer date. A judgment in favor of the landlord will result in the tenant's having 5 days to move out or file an appeal. If there's no appeal in 5 days, the landlord may get a Writ of Possession. Law officers will serve the tenant with this Writ of Possession and will supervise the removal of the tenant's property from the apartment. All tenants and personal items will be removed by the landlord under the supervision of a law officer.
How do I appeal an eviction?
Appeals differ according to the particular circumstance, but in general, a tenant may appeal an eviction by filing an appeal bond or an affidavit of inability to file an appeal bond.
Appeal in a non-payment of rent case: If the tenant does not file an appeal bond, but files an affidavit, the tenant may stay in possession of the rental unit during the appeal process by paying one month's rent into the court registry within 5 days of filing the affidavit and paying both nonpayment and additional rent payments into the court registry as they become due during the appeals process.
Appeal in non-rent case: The tenant may appeal by filing an appeal bond or by filing an affidavit of inability to file an appeal bond. The tenant does not have to pay rent into the court registry but should continue to offer the rent to the landlord, even if the landlord refuses it.
If a tenant does not file a written answer with the justice court, she must do so with the county court within 8 days after court papers are filed in county court. If not, the landlord may win by default.
My landlord has begun eviction proceedings against me. Can she lock me out of my apartment?
The landlord may legally change the lock on the tenant's door when rent is delinquent, but must first give the tenant at least three days advance written notice of intent to change the locks if the rent is not paid. S/he must also leave a statement attached to the outside of the door explaining where the tenant may acquire a new key. By law, the landlord must give the tenant the key when requested. The landlord must allow access to the rental unit -- even if the tenant has not paid rent.
What if my landlord refuses to let me back into the unit?
If the landlord refuses to hand over the key you go to the Justice of the Peace and request a same day Writ of Re-Entry.
Is there such a thing as an illegal eviction?
Yes. If a landlord denies a tenant access to the apartment or if a tenant's property is removed without a court order, the tenant may have acted illegally if the removal is not pursuant of abandonment or a landlord's lien. Check your lease to see if it makes provisions for an abandonment clause and / or a landlord's lien clause.
Is the landlord ever justified in seizing my property?
Yes, but only if you are delinquent on the rent and the lease gives the landlord a lien on your property. Such a provision must be underlined or in bold print in the lease.
In seizing the property under a landlord's lien, the landlord may not take exempt property, but may remove non-essential items (TVs, stereos, VCRs, CD players), provided s/he can enter the apartment peacefully. But s/he must do the following:
- The landlord must leave a notice of entry along with a written inventory of the items removed.
- The notice must state the name, address, telephone number of the person whom the tenant may contact about the amount owed.
- The notice must show the amount of delinquent rent and state that the items will be promptly returned when the full amount of delinquent rent is paid.
- The landlord cannot collect or charge for parking, removing, or storing items unless authorized previously in a written lease.
In addition, a landlord may remove property if a tenant abandons the unit. If a landlord obtains a court order of eviction, the landlord may also remove the tenant's property, but this must be done under the supervision of a law officer.
Can the landlord sell my possessions in order to recover back rent?
Unless otherwise permitted in the written lease, any property seized by a landlord under a landlord's lien cannot be sold or disposed of. If the lease permits such a sale, the landlord must give the tenant 30 days written notice before the date of the sale. This notice must be sent to the tenant by both first class and certified mail, or Return Receipt Requested at the tenant's last known address.
My landlord is threatening to evict me because I've fallen behind on my rent. But now I'm paid up in full. Can he still proceed with the eviction?
A landlord can proceed with an eviction if the tenant falls behind on the rent, even if the tenant eventually pays the rent in full. However, a court may very well find that the landlord, by accepting the rent, has waived the right to evict.
Doesn't my landlord have to give me 30 days notice before filing suit to evict me?
No, Texas law requires a three day notice for eviction for breach of the lease unless the notice provides for a different notice period. For example, the lease itself may provide as little as 24 hours notice. The actual eviction procedure itself can take as little as two weeks.
A thirty day notice is required only when the landlord is ending a month-to-month tenancy or when giving notice that he will not renew an existing lease (and is not claiming that the tenant breached the lease).
If my landlord doesn't evict me per se, can he remove doors and windows in an attempt to force me out?
No. Landlord removal of doors, windows, furniture, fixtures, etc., in an attempt to make you move, is illegal. These items can only be removed for repair or replacement.
Can my landlord cut off my utilities in an attempt to evict me?
That depends. If you live in an "all bills paid" apartment or house, and you fall behind on the rent, state law does not prevent your landlord from cutting off the utilities, but the landlord must give you five days written notice warning you that the utilities will be cut unless the rent is paid and you must be a least seven days late in paying the rent. However, such an action may be a violation of a city code in which case housing inspectors may require that the utilities be turned on again.
If you live in an apartment complex where you make payments directly to the utility company itself, then the landlord -- per order of the Public Utility Commission -- cannot cut off your utilities as reprisal for non-payment of rent.
I have very noisy neighbors. Shouldn't my landlord evict them?
The landlord has the right -- not the duty-- to evict noisy tenants. However, if the landlord fails to take action, the tenant may have a claim to end the lease because of the landlord's breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment.
More information on Lock Outs and Evictions
Is it better to mail or hand deliver the rent?ANSWER
Can I pay my rent in cash?ANSWER
What should I do if I know my rent is going to be late?ANSWER
I used to mail my rent to the landlord. Now, suddenly, s/he wants me to hand deliver it. Can s/he suddenly change the terms of delivery?ANSWER
My landlord used to accept late payments from me. Now s/he's cracking down and threatening eviction. Can s/he legally do this?ANSWER
My landlord has refused to accept my rent payment. What do I do?ANSWER
My lease is about to expire and my landlord has just increased the rent by an unreasonable amount. Can he do this?ANSWER
Can I withhold rent if my landlord violates the agreements of the lease?ANSWER
Can I withhold rent if the landlord fails to pay the utilities bill and my water, electricity, etc., is cut off?ANSWER
What legal actions can the landlord pursue against me if I refuse to pay rent or other charges?ANSWER
My landlord has reported me to a collection agency. How can I protect myself against this agency?ANSWER
RETURN TO TOPICS TABLE
Is it better to mail or hand deliver the rent?
That depends upon your agreement with the landlord, as stipulated in the lease. There are obviously several ways to pay rent -- mail, hand delivery, drop box. The advantages and disadvantages of each depend on a number of factors -- schedule, proximity to the landlord, safety of the method of delivery, etc. Regardless of the method chosen, it is important to remember, however, that rent is considered paid only when the landlord receives it.
Can I pay my rent in cash?
Unless your written lease says otherwise, your landlord must accept your rent payment in cash. If you pay by cash, make sure that your landlord gives you a written receipt. It's recommended that you also bring along a witness when paying your rent.
If your landlord refuses to give you a written receipt for cash payment, either you or a tenants' rights agency may file suit against the landlord requiring compliance with the law. A tenant may also recover the greater of one month's rent or $500 for each violation.
What should I do if I know my rent is going to be late?
Call the landlord, explain that your rent will be late (It's your prerogative as to whether or not you want to explain the reasons why) and work out an agreement with the landlord as to when s/he will accept the rent payment. In the State of Texas, the landlord is under no legal obligation to accept / give grace periods for late rents, except to the extent that a grace period is given in the lease. The landlord may also impose late charges, if allowed by the lease.
I used to mail my rent to the landlord. Now, suddenly, s/he wants me to hand deliver it. Can s/he suddenly change the terms of delivery?
Yes. The landlord has the right -- at any time -- to alter the method of rent payment, unless otherwise stipulated in the written lease.
My landlord used to accept late payments from me. Now s/he's cracking down and threatening eviction. Can s/he legally do this?
That depends. If it can be shown that a pattern of late payment acceptance on the part of the landlord has been established, then the landlord may be prevented from evicting a tenant. If the landlord accepts late rent before giving the tenant a written notice of eviction, then the landlord forfeits the right to evict for late payment of rent. It is important here, however, that the tenant keep a copy of all previous canceled rent checks to show that such a practice indeed occurred.
However, in spite of whatever pattern has been established in the past, the landlord may inform the renter that late payments will no longer be accepted and that payments must be made in accordance with the lease terms. Should the tenant continue to pay the rent late, eviction proceedings by the landlord may be pursued.
Click here for more information on Late Rent.
My landlord has refused to accept my rent payment. What do I do?
If a landlord refuses to accept rent, try again to pay. Bring a witness along to show that your attempt to pay has been rebuffed.
My lease is about to expire and my landlord has just increased the rent by an unreasonable amount. Can he do this?
Unfortunately, yes. Texas has no rent control laws that limit the amount of rent increases once the lease has ended. However, the landlord will have to give thirty days notice of the rent increase if rent is paid monthly, unless the lease specifies a different notice period.
Can I withhold rent if my landlord violates the agreements of the lease?
If you withhold rent, the landlord has grounds to evict you. Rent withholding can be risky because you risk being held liable for breaching the lease and can be evicted. It is best to always go through the court system.
Can I withhold rent if the landlord fails to pay the utilities bill and my water, electricity, etc. is cut off?
If you live in an "all bills paid" apartment, or pay your utility bill to the landlord, and s/he doesn't pay the utilities bill, then you have several options if the utility company cuts off services or gives written notice to you that it is about to cut utility service:
- You can pay the utility bill and deduct the cost from your next month's rent. Simply submit a copy of the receipt from the utility company with your partial rent payment.
- You can terminate the lease by giving written notice and moving out within 30 days of the termination of utilities or 30 days from the date you received notice from the utility company of a future cut-off.
- You can sue for actual damages.
- You can sue for court costs and attorney's fees.
What legal actions can the landlord pursue against me if I refuse to pay rent or other charges?
Your landlord may take one or more of the following actions:
- Turn the case over to a collection agency
- Report you to a credit bureau
- Sue you in court for the money
My landlord has reported me to a collection agency. How can I protect myself against this agency?
Collection agencies and credit bureaus are regulated by the State of Texas and Federal Trade Commission so that you do indeed have certain rights. For example, collection agencies are not supposed to:
- Contact you at inconvenient times or places, unless you agree.
- Contact you at work if your boss disapproves.
- Tell anyone other than you or your attorney that you owe money.
- Use obscene language.
- Threaten arrest if you don't pay your debts.
- Call you without identifying themselves.
If you want the collection agency to stop contacting you, send them a letter telling them to stop. Once they receive this letter, it is illegal for them to continue contacting you, except to inform you on the status of actions taken against you.
If you are reported to a credit bureau, then the next time you apply for another apartment, loan, or a credit card, it will be shown that your landlord has a credit complaint against you. As a result, you may be turned down for the apartment, etc.
If you dispute owing a landlord a debt alleged by the landlord, you may notify the credit bureau of the dispute and ask the credit bureau to include your explanation (not to exceed 100 words) in your credit file.
To check your credit file, contact the credit bureau and ask to see your file. They are required to let you know -- free of charge, if you request the information 30 days within being denied credit-- what's in your file. If your file contains false information, ask the credit bureau to investigate. If the information can't be verified, it must be expunged from your file. Problems with credit bureaus can be reported to the Federal Trade Commission and the Office of the Attorney General.
Does my unit have to be equipped with smoke detectors?ANSWER
How many smoke detectors should be in my apartment?ANSWER
Does the landlord have any duty to maintain the upkeep of the smoke detector? ANSWER
I've asked my landlord to repair a broken smoke detector in my apartment, but he hasn't done it. What actions can I take to get him to honor my request?ANSWER
Some friends of mine damaged the smoke detector at a party here the other night (Don't ask.). Who pays for its repair: me or my landlord?ANSWER
Do I have to maintain the smoke detector?ANSWER
What kinds of security can I expect my landlord to provide me with?ANSWER
Can I waive my right to have locks?ANSWER
I'd like another lock on my door. Does my landlord have to provide me with one?ANSWER
How many locks can I ask for?ANSWER
How often can I request that locks be changed or rekeyed?ANSWER
If I ask the landlord to install deadbolt type locks, do I have to pay?ANSWER
What happens if one of my locks break? Then who pays?ANSWER
My landlord enters my apartment unannounced and unexpectedly. Can I request a lock to keep him / her out?ANSWER
RETURN TO TOPICS TABLE
Does my unit have to be equipped with smoke detectors?
As of September 1, 1984, all rental units in the State of Texas must have smoke detectors as required by the Texas Property Code. Smoke detectors must be in place and tested by the landlord before the tenant moves in.
How many smoke detectors should be in my apartment?
That depends on the number of rooms and the layout of the unit. Efficiency apartments require only one smoke detector, while multi-room apartments and houses require more. For example, at least one smoke detector should be installed outside each bedroom (unless bedrooms are all off one corridor, in which case the smoke detector may be placed in the corridor). If a bedroom is upstairs from a cooking / living area, the smoke detector for the bedrooms should be placed at the top of the stairway.
Does the landlord have any duty to maintain the upkeep of the smoke detector?
Yes. S/he is supposed to inspect and test all smoke detectors when you first move in. Moreover, s/he must inspect or test the smoke detector whenever you request or give notice of a problem.
I've asked my landlord to repair a broken smoke detector in my apartment, but s/he hasn't done it. What actions can I take to get him to honor my request?
If the landlord doesn't install, inspect, or repair the required smoke detector after you have requested it, you can give the landlord seven days written notice to do so. If the landlord still refuses to install, inspect, or repair a faulty smoke detector, you may terminate the lease and leave or sue for actual damages, one month's rent plus $100, court costs and attorneys fees and a court order directing the landlord to comply.
Some friends of mine damaged the smoke detector at a party here the other night (Don't ask.). Who pays for its repair: me or my landlord?
If you or your guests damage the smoke detector, the landlord must repair or replace the damaged smoke detector, but only if you pay in advance for the cost of repairs.
Do I have to maintain the smoke detector?
Yes. Tenants are responsible for replacing smoke detector batteries.
What kinds of security can I expect my landlord to provide me with?
Landlords must to provide:
(a) a doorknob lock or a keyed deadbolt lock on all exterior doors
(b) a keyless deadbolt and a door viewer on all exterior doors
(c) window latches on windows, including an additional on each exterior door.
(d) a pin lock and handle latch or security bar on exterior sliding doors
Can I waive my right to have locks?
No. Any lease provision under which a tenant agrees that the landlord doesn't have to provide locks is unenforceable.
I'd like another lock on my door. Does my landlord have to provide me with one?
Yes. The Texas Property Code states that landlords must install, change, or rekey a lock on any exterior door or window when the tenant requests. Whether or not the lease requires it, it's better to always put these requests in writing. This is particularly helpful for documentation purposes if there are problems later. Click here for more information on adding or changing locks.
How many locks can I ask for?
The landlord must install, at her expense, the locks identified in in the earlier section. In addition to those locks, a tenant may obtain at his/her expense:
a keyed deadbolt if the door only has a doorknob lock and a keyless deadbolt; a sliding door security bar if the exterior sliding glass door has only a pin lock and handle latch.
How often can I request that locks be changed or rekeyed?
As often as you feel is necessary and so long as you are willing to pay for the rekeying..
If I ask the landlord to install deadbolt type locks, do I have to pay?
The installation of any additional locks -- besides what is legally required -- must be paid for by the tenant.
However, even though the tenant pays for the locks, they become the landlord's property and cannot be removed without his /her permission.
What happens if one of my locks break? Then who pays?
The landlord is required to pay for the repair or replacement of a lock resulting from normal wear and tear.
My landlord enters my apartment unannounced and unexpectedly. Can I request a lock to keep him / her out?
Yes. The tenant can request the installation of a keyless deadbolt to preserve his / her privacy.
More information on Smoke Detectors and Security Devices
What kinds of repairs am I legally entitled to?ANSWER
What do I do exactly in order to obtain repairs from my landlord?ANSWER
I've asked my landlord to make repairs, but she has not done so. What do I do?ANSWER
Can't I simply deduct the cost of repairs from my rent instead of waiting for a response from the landlord?ANSWER
What do I do if my landlord ignores my request for repairs?ANSWER
Do I ever have a right to exercise rights to Repair and Deduct?ANSWER
My sewage system is backing up. I can't wait for all these remedies to kick in. What do I do?ANSWER
Can anyone make these repairs for me?ANSWER
Okay, if I go after my landlord about these repairs, can he retaliate?ANSWER
Is my landlord responsible for repairs needed as a result of natural disasters?ANSWER
Can I break my lease if my landlord fails to make repairs in the time specified in the lease?ANSWER
I want to stay in my apartment. How do I stay in my apartment and get my landlord to make repairs and compensate me for these problems?ANSWER
RETURN TO TOPICS TABLE
What kinds of repairs am I legally entitled to?
According to the Texas Property Code, tenants have the right to have repaired any condition that threatens their health or safety. Tenants are entitled to:
1. Decent, safe, and sanitary dwellings
2. Repairs for conditions that threaten the health or safety of a tenant
3. Smoke detectors
4. Secure locks on all doors and windows
The City of Austin Uniform Housing Code requires:
1. Heating facilities that can maintain a room temperature of 70 degrees F.
2. Hot water at a temperature of not less than 110 degrees F.
3. A kitchen sink, shower or bathtub, toilet, and hot and cold water.
Tenants are also entitled to any repairs to which the landlord has obligated him/herself under the lease.
What must I do exactly in order to obtain repairs from my landlord?
Ask him / her (in writing if specified by the lease). Remember that your rent must be paid up-to-date.
I've asked my landlord to make repairs, but she has not done so. What do I do?
Write a letter to the landlord and / or manager that includes the following:
- Repair problem
- Whether the problem is a threat to health / safety
- Deadline for repairs to begin (5 days is considered reasonable. In the case of an emergency -- 24 hours)
The letter should be hand delivered to the landlord (Bring a witness along) or sent to the landlord by both regular or Certified mail, or Return Receipt Requested mail. Keep a copy of this letter.
When the deadline given is exceeded without the landlord making a diligent effort to make repairs, tenant should write a second and final notice including:
- Repair problem
- Whether the problem is a threat to your health / safety
- Notice that unless the repairs are made in seven days, the tenant will:
1. take legal action under the Texas Property Code to enforce repairs and recover damages; or
2. terminate the lease and move; or
3. exercise rights to repair and deduct if repairs are not made; or
4. a request for a written explanation for the delay in making the repair.
Again, the letter should be hand delivered to the landlord (Bring a witness along) or sent to the landlord by both regular or Certified mail, or Return Receipt Requested mail. Keep a copy of this letter. Click here for more information on Tenant Remedies for Non-Repair.
Can't I simply deduct the cost of repairs from my rent instead of waiting for a response from the landlord?
No. Renters should never withhold rent because repairs have not been made. You risk eviction and may forfeit all rights to have repairs made. Commercial renters have different rights, however, and should consult an attorney.
What do I do if my landlord ignores my request for repairs?
If both letters are ignored without the landlord making a diligent effort to make repairs, you may -- under the Texas Property Code:
- Vacate the unit and still be entitled to a refund of the security deposit (as long as there is no damage to the unit beyond the usual wear and tear) and a refund of the rent for the remainder of the month after you leave in accordance with the law
- Take the landlord to Justice, County, or District Court where an order may be issued:
- Directing the landlord to make repairs (available only in County and District Courts)
- Granting partial rent reduction
- Awarding tenant one month's rent plus $500.00
- Awarding the tenant money for actual damages, reasonable attorney's fees, and court costs
Do I ever have a right to exercise rights to Repair and Deduct?
You may exercise rights to Repair and Deduct, but before exercising this right, you must also have a local housing official (e.g. a building inspector), building, health, or other official having jurisdiction, notify the landlord in writing that these conditions adversely affect the health and / or safety of the tenant.
My sewage system is backing up. I can't wait for all these remedies to kick in. What do I do?
If the landlord fails to address / remedy any problems that result in water or sewage problems that could adversely affect the health of the tenant (overflow of raw sewage inside a dwelling, water cutoff, etc.), the tenant may directly exercise rights to repair and deduct without verification by one of the officials mentioned above. The tenant also doesn't have to wait 7 days before giving second notice, but may have the repair made immediately after the second notice. Repairs that involve sewerage or flooding may be made immediately after giving the second notice. For water, heating, and air conditioning problems, the tenant must wait three days after giving the landlord a second notice to repair which also informs the landlord that the tenant may repair and deduct.
Can anyone make these repairs for me?
No. Repairs must be made by an advertised repairman, etc. Repairs may not be made by the tenant and must be in compliance with applicable building codes.
Okay, if I go after my landlord about these repairs, can he retaliate?
S/he may, but it's illegal to do so. The Texas State Property Code prohibits landlords from evicting, increasing the tenant's rent, decreasing services to tenants, terminating the tenant's lease, or engaging in bad faith in a course of conduct that materially interferes with the tenant's rights, for six months after the notice of repair was given.
However, the landlord may evict the tenant if it can be shown that the eviction is for a reason other than the request for repairs. The landlord has the burden in court to show that the eviction is non-retaliatory. Rent may be increased / decreased if it can be shown that this is part of a regular pattern of increases / decreases for all units.
Is my landlord responsible for repairs needed as a result of natural disasters?
Yes. However, the landlord may wait to repair until after receiving insurance proceeds. Moreover, if after a natural disaster, the unit is totally unusable, the landlord or tenant may terminate the lease.
Can I break my lease if my landlord fails to make repairs in the time specified in the lease?
No. You must follow the specific legal procedures enumerated in the Texas Property Code before you may terminate your lease over non-repairs. A unilateral decision to terminate your lease may result in your being liable to the landlord for damages.
I want to stay in my apartment. How do I stay in my apartment and get my landlord to make repairs and compensate me for these problems?
If you have given the proper notices, you may sue for:
- a court order requiring the landlord to make repairs
- a reduction of your rent beginning at the time you first notified the landlord about the problems
- one month's rent plus $500
- actual damages
- court costs and attorney's fees
You may file suit yourself without an attorney in Justice Court but the Justice of the Peace does not have the authority to give a court order requiring the landlord to make repairs. Only county court and district court judges have authority to order the landlord to make repairs.
More information on Repairs
I am a renter, not a homeowner. Do I need insurance?ANSWER
Is my apartment covered under my landlord's policy?ANSWER
What is the purpose of renter's insurance?ANSWER
I live in an apartment with three roommates. Do we each need a policy?ANSWER
RETURN TO TOPICS TABLE
I am a renter, not a homeowner. Do I need insurance?
That depends on your needs and financial situation. Renters insurance offers the same general personal property coverage and liability protection as a homeowners policy, but, like most insurance, it's a gamble. In many cases, insurance is useful: If there were a catastrophe, could you afford to replace everything you own? If you were sued, would you have enough money to pay legal fees and possibly settle the suit? Could you afford additional living expenses (loss-of-use coverage) if you were forced to live elsewhere by fire or other damage? If not, chances are you would benefit from the protection that renters insurance brings. Likewise, can you afford the monthly payments?
Is my apartment covered under my landlord's policy?
No, the landlord's insurance covers damage to the building and the landlord's property - not your personal property or liability. Plus, you may be liable for damage to the building if it is your fault. For example, if you go out and leave the stove on and an ensuing fire causes extensive damage to the entire building, you may be held liable to the landlord.
What is the purpose of renter's insurance?
Renters insurance is a property / casualty policy to protect your property and to protect you against liability. For example, if someone slips and falls in your apartment, you may be held liable for the injury. Renters insurance would cover that accident. All your possessions up to the monetary limits listed in your policy also would be covered for specified damages (both at home and when you travel).
I live in an apartment with three roommates. Do we each need a policy?
Check with an insurance agent. Usually, it is best if all roommates are on the same policy although it is possible for each to purchase his or her own coverage. If you do need to "go it alone," you alone receive the security of renters coverage.
What sorts of preliminary information should I get before signing the lease?ANSWER
Can my landlord enter my property whenever he / she wishes?ANSWER
Does my landlord have to provide me with a heating and / or air conditioning unit?ANSWER
I can't afford the Dream Team in going after my landlord. Can you suggest some affordable legal organizations?ANSWER
Who do I contact about structurally unsafe buildings and / or vermin?ANSWER
I may qualify for Section 8 housing. Briefly, how does this program work? ANSWER
I've been denied an apartment, the result -- I think -- of discrimination on the part of the owner. What recourse can I take?ANSWER
RETURN TO TOPICS TABLE
What sorts of preliminary information should I get before signing the lease?
The landlord must provide the tenant, upon request, with the name and address of ownership, plus the name and address of management agency (if located off-site). You can also get ownership information from the County Tax Appraisal District.
Can my landlord enter my property whenever he / she wishes?
The landlord may enter the apartment only in accordance with the terms of the lease. For more information on Improper Entry, click here.
Does my landlord have to provide me with a heating and / or air conditioning?
The landlord must provide you with heat. If the landlord leases you a unit with an air conditioner, then the landlord must maintain the air conditioner.
I can't afford the Dream Team in going after my landlord. Can you suggest some affordable legal organizations?
Yes. Contact the following organizations:
The Austin Tenants' Council (512-474-1961) Legal Aid of Central Texas (512-476-7244) The University of Texas Student Attorney (512-471-7796) The Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division (512-463-2070) The North Texas Tenants Council (214-828-4244).
Who do I contact about structurally unsafe buildings and / or vermin?
For structural problems, call a tenants union or the Building Inspection Department of your city. For problems with rats and other vermin, call the county health department and the city code enforcement officer.
I may qualify for Section 8 housing. Briefly, how does this program work?
Section 8 housing is operated by your local public housing authority and uses both vouchers and certificates. Under the Section 8 Certificate Program, tenants must find a unit which rents for less than certain maximum fair market rents set by HUD. The tenant pays 30% of their adjusted monthly income for rent and utilities. Under the Section 8 Voucher Program, the tenant may rent a unit leasing for any rent, but the amount of the rent the housing authority will pay is limited to the difference between a payment standard set by the housing authority and thirty percent of the tenant's monthly adjusted income. Thus, unlike Section 8 Certificate tenants, Voucher tenants frequently pay more than 30% of their income for rent and utilities. You find your own apartment, provided the landlord agrees to participate in the program.
To apply for Section 8 housing, contact your local public housing authority.
Other government-assisted housing programs include:
- Section 202: Provides housing for the elderly and disabled. Tenants apply directly to
the apartment complex in which they want to live. The complex has to participate in the
program, however. Section 8 rental subsidies are generally provided.
- Section 221(d)(3) / Section 236: Offer rents that are lower than private market rents,
but higher than the 30% cap of Section 8 housing. Most of these apartments have Section 8 subsidies for all or part of their units and the tenant's share of the rent is based on the tenant's income.
Section 8 New Construction, Substantial rehabilitation and Moderate rehabilitation properties:
Tax Credit properties: Tax credit properties offer slightly lower rents but not the deep rental subsidies of subsidized apartment complexes. However, the owner of a tax credit property must accept applicants who have Section 8 Certificates or Vouchers. Although the landlord may reject applicants who do not meet their screening criteria. they may not reject an applicant merely because s/he has a Section 9 certificate or Voucher.
Most of these apartment complexes have some of their apartments subsidized under Section 8.
For more information on subsidized housing, contact your local public housing authority or your local HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development) office.
I've been denied an apartment, the result -- I think -- of discrimination on the part of the owner. What recourse can I take?
The US government, the state of Texas, and many cities have fair housing laws which prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, gender, color, religion, family status, handicap, national origin, or age. Some cities have prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
If you feel you are the victim of discrimination, you can file a complaint with your city's fair housing office, the Texas Commission on Human Rights (512-837-8534) or the HUD fair housing office (800-669-9777).
More information on Utilities Problems, and Disclosure of Ownership and Management
Still need more information?
copyright 1996 Texas Low Income Housing Information Service
Last updated October 1, 1996
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