Rent laws are controlled at both the state and federal level. The majority of those laws, however, are governed by the state. For that reason, there is a wide variance between how disputes between tenants and landlords are handled from one state to the next. For those who move around a lot due to work or own properties in multiple states, it can be incredibly confusing to keep track of each state’s laws. For that reason, we have compiled these handy articles so that tenants and landlords in every state know their rights and understand their obligations.
> Discrimination Laws
> Exemptions from Anti-Discrimination Laws
> Texas Rental Laws and Security Deposits
> Texas Laws Concerning Lease Agreements, Rent, and Fees
> Texas Laws Concerning Eviction
> Texas Laws and Landlord Entry into Rented Property
> Landlord Disclosures
> Business Licenses
> Texas State Associations and Resources
Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws
Federal anti-discrimination laws are laid out in the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. These laws restrict landlords from screening tenants based on discriminatory methods. Title VI of The Civil Rights Act lays out specific characteristics that are protected by law. These are echoed in the Fair Housing Act.
Specifically, a landlord may not:
- Deny housing,
- Say a property is rented when it is not,
- Charge an added security deposit,
- Segregate tenants based on a protected characteristic,
- Or put discriminatory language in an advertisement.
Characteristics that are protected at the federal level include:
- Sex or gender,
- Familial status,
- Country of origin,
- Religion or creed,
- And disability.
Federal law prohibits landlords from denying tenancy or charging an added security deposit based on the number of children a tenant may have. In addition, a landlord is expected to make reasonable accommodations for a disabled tenant.
That includes, but is not limited to, allowing the tenant to have a service animal if they are medically authorized to have one. This is in spite of the fact that a landlord may have a no pets policy. Service animals are not considered pets by law. They are considered necessities for disabled people. A landlord may not deny tenancy, raise the rent, or add a security deposit for a service animal.
On the other hand, a landlord is allowed to ask for proof that the tenant requires a service animal. “Emotional support animals” are not considered service animals under federal guidelines. They are considered pets. Service animals perform some function. Emotional support animals are for companionship. That is the very definition of a pet. Landlords are not expected to accommodate those who require emotional support animals.
Texas Anti-Discrimination Laws
The Texas Fair Housing Act follows federal guidelines concerning protected characteristics and discrimination. On the other hand, it does make accommodations for older people. In addition, there may be some city ordinances that extend protection based on sexual orientation or gender identification.
It is worth noting that some states have extended protection to individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identification. In addition, there are those that have interpreted sex and gender discrimination to include those in the LGBT community.
Landlords who are looking to run their business smoothly and without lawsuits are advised to choose the first qualified candidate from the pool. This allows transparency in the selection process and ensures that you will have a sound defense if an angry would-be tenant decides to take legal action.
Legal reasons for screening tenants include:
- Poor credit,
- Prior eviction,
- Criminal record.
There are a handful of exemptions to anti-discrimination laws. Those include:
- Owner-occupied buildings with fewer than four rental units (Mrs. Murphy Law),
- Single-family housing sold or rented without the use of a broker,
- Housing operated by members of an organization or club.
In addition, HOPA (Housing for Older People Act) can change how familial exemptions apply to 55 and over communities.
Texas has no statutes concerning the maximum amount a security deposit can be or how it is supposed to be held. In addition, there are no statutes limiting non-refundable fees, pet deposits, or other fees.
Texas, however, requires the landlord to return the security deposit within 30 days of the lease expiration. This is regardless of whether the tenant is on a month-to-month lease. Landlords are expected to present the tenant with an itemized list of charges and damages (92.104).
Texas provides no statute concerning late fees, but if a landlord chooses to charge a tenant, the landlord should specifically outline the penalty in the lease. The same holds true for returned checks.
A landlord is allowed to terminate a lease agreement immediately if the tenant is convicted of public indecency (91.003).
Subletting a rental property without the landlord’s prior notice or consent is expressly forbidden (91.005).
If a landlord must sue a tenant for eviction, the landlord can sue for legal fees (92.005). The landlord must, however, make a reasonable attempt to rent the property in the tenant’s absence and thereby mitigate damages to the tenant.
A landlord may not lock a tenant out from a property while an eviction proceeding is underway. In addition, they may not remove doors, windows, or otherwise make the property easily accessible to outside parties and/or compromise the safety of the tenant. There are, however, exclusions for this statute. Those include:
- Repairs, construction, or emergency;
- Removing abandoned belongings of the tenant;
- The tenant is delinquent in paying rent (92.081).
The landlord may not, however, turn off the utilities for any reason (92.081(o)).
Either party must give the other at least 30 days notice to terminate a lease regardless of the lease type.
A landlord can issue a tenant a three-day notice to remedy or quit in the event that they are delinquent in their rental payments (Sec. 24.005). While there are no statutes concerning eviction due to another lease violation, the landlord is advised to include this information in the lease agreement.
The Implied Warranty of Habitability in Texas
There are no statutes governing whether or not a tenant is allowed to withhold rent from a landlord if the dwelling is uninhabitable or fails to provide basic needs. The tenant can deduct rent and make repairs so long as the repairs do not exceed a single month’s rent (92.056). There is, however, a four-step process to doing so.
- Ensure that you are caught up with rent. A tenant may not withhold rent if the landlord fails to provide basic necessities.
- Notify the landlord of the problem, preferably in writing. The notice should include the date, the problem, your name, and your address.
- Allow the landlord enough time to make the necessary repairs. The landlord should make some effort toward repairs within a week. If the dwelling is rendered uninhabitable by inclement weather or fire, the landlord is under no duty to repair the damage until the insurance company pays out their money. They are still authorized by law to collect rent.
- There are three ways a tenant can compel a landlord to act. Those include:
- a) The lease agreement. Generally speaking, the landlord lays out their obligations and the tenant’s duties in the lease agreement. A lease in which the landlord does not agree to basic habitability standards should not be signed. Abiding by the standards set forth in the lease is the best way to compel a landlord to act.
- b) Repair statutes. Repair statutes compel a landlord to act if the habitability of the dwelling risks a tenant’s safety.
- c) Municipal ordinances. These are city or county statutes that impose minimum standards on landlords for habitability. They will vary from one city to the next.
Tenant Options if the Landlord Fails to Maintain a Minimum Standard of Habitability
If a landlord fails to maintain a minimum standard of habitability, a tenant may:
- Terminate the lease and move;
- File a lawsuit for damages and action to compel the landlord to act;
- Repair the problem and then deduct it from the rent;
- Fix the problem yourself;
- Or simply deal with it.
If you intend to terminate the lease, you must (in writing) explain the conditions to your landlord and wait a reasonable period for him or her to attempt to fix the problem. The letter should be sent for repairs via certified mail. You must be in good standing concerning rent and monies owed to the landlord. If the landlord fails to comply with the request, you can terminate the lease.
However, your best solution is to sue the landlord. Too much can go wrong when attempting to remedy the problem yourself. That includes finding grounds to terminate the lease or repairing the damage yourself. A lawyer can streamline the process of compelling the landlord to act and provide the landlord with the necessary notice.
A landlord is legally required to give some notice prior to entering the premises. The law, however, does not specify how much notice a landlord must give. In addition, there is no statute governing whether a landlord may enter the property in the event of an emergency. Tenants, however, are entitled to their privacy, so a landlord should attempt to give notice before entry unless there is some reason they can not (92.0081).
If a tenant dies while renting the landlord’s property, the landlord is allowed to remove the property 30 days after sending a certified letter to their emergency contact as listed on the lease (Sec. 92.014.5).
The landlord is obliged to tell the tenant on the lease that they can repair and deduct rent or terminate the lease in the event that the damage causes significant danger to their health and well-being. Landlords are also obliged to inform the tenant that they may break the lease if they have been sexually assaulted or are the victim of domestic violence. They can, however, require proof of this.
Texas has no statewide statute regarding business licenses for landlords. Cities and counties, on the other hand, might. It is up to the landlord to check with their local government.
- Texas Judicial Branch
- Texas Guide to Homeowners Insurance
- Office of the Attorney General
- State Bar of Texas
- Texas HUD
- Texas Real Estate Commission
- Texas Association of REALTORS
- Tenant’s Rights Handbook
- AG’s Guide to Tenant’s Rights
- Texas Tenant Advisor
- Texas Legal Aid
- Texas Apartment Association
- Landlord & Tenants Guide
Rentler is a proud supporter of the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas and the Houston Apartment Association.
Apartment associations are great local resources, even for DIY landlords. They can provide insight and aid in your rental process, and are often the rental community’s biggest advocate with local legislators. We recommend joining as a member and reaching out if you need more specific help regarding local rental rules and regulations.
This blog entry is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Landlords and Tenants are encouraged to seek specific legal advice for any of the issues as found in this blog.