Texas Landlord-Tenant Law
The landlord-tenant relationship can be tense at times and can sometimes lead to a legal battle. Perhaps you live in Houston and your landlord won’t allow your homosexual partner to join you on the lease. Maybe a disruptive tenant has been hosting large parties in his Austin townhouse, causing noise complaints and property damage.
Whether you’re a landlord or a tenant, you should typically be able to deal with legal issues without going to court. Some landlord-tenant disputes will leave you with no other option. Both parties need to know the basics of renting out a place, how to collect or pay security deposits, about fair housing laws, etc. This overview of key Texas landlord-tenant laws will help guide you.
Texas Fair Housing Laws
Texas and federal discrimination laws are fully enforced under Texas’s Fair Housing laws. According to the Fair Housing laws, landlords may not:
- Prevent tenants from renting or negotiating for housing,
- Create unfair rules, terms or privileges in a leasing agreement,
- Limit tenants to different facilities or services,
- Prevent tenants from inspecting housing,
- Bar tenants from access to rental-related memberships,
- Retaliate against or intimidate tenants who exercise their fair housing rights, or
- Discriminate against a tenant in any other way…
Based on a tenant’s protected characteristic, including:
- National origin
- Familial status
- Marital status
A common component to the rental process in Texas is the payment of a security deposit. The security deposit can be of any dollar amount without limit under Texas state law, though some cities or municipalities may enforce a limit. Generally, landlords charge a full month’s rent as the security deposit. Note that a security deposit is not the last month’s rent.
The security deposit covers any repairs to the unit that doesn’t constitute normal wear and tear. Landlords may deduct from the deposit to make the repairs or renovations but they must provide the tenant with a written, itemized list of each item or service and its charge within 30 days after the tenant vacates the premises. If the landlord fails to provide this list, they may forfeit the right to withhold any amount of the deposit.
If the tenant leaves the rental in good condition (minus normal wear and tear), the landlord must refund the security deposit within 30 days after the tenant has vacated the premises. The landlord may withhold a non-refundable portion of the deposit but only if it was labeled as a customary fee, such as a pet fee.
One of the most important documents in a landlord-tenant relationship is the lease agreement. The lease is a legally binding agreement of the responsibilities both the landlord and the tenant promise to uphold. In addition to specifics like amenities, renovations and other apartment features, the lease includes legal details like:
- The rent rate and payment schedule.
- The security deposit amount and what it covers.
- A pet policy.
- Repair policy and procedures.
- Roommate and guest policies.
Texas Lease Termination and Eviction Rules
Both landlords and tenants may terminate a lease early but only under special circumstances. A landlord commonly terminates a lease after a tenant breaks the terms of the lease agreement. Tenants are encouraged to carefully read the terms of their lease agreement to understand the specific grounds for termination.
A landlord may decide to evict a tenant who breaks the terms of their lease or continues to inhabit the rental property past the end of the lease’s termination (also known as a “hold-over”). The landlord must deliver a written eviction notice to the tenant three days prior to the actual eviction.
If a tenant wants to terminate a lease early, it is recommended that they have the landlord sign an early termination agreement well in advance of moving out. By doing so, the tenant may avoid a lawsuit from the landlord over unpaid rent, among other possible legal issues.
Getting Legal Help from a Texas Attorney
Whether you are a landlord or a tenant, you may want to take a look at the Tenants’ Rights Handbook published by the Texas Young Lawyers Association and the State Bar for more detailed information on Texas landlord-tenant law. If you find you are in need of legal counsel or advice, you should consider hiring a landlord-tenant lawyer to represent your interests.