In Texas, as with any other state, if rent is paid in a timely manner in exchange for inhabiting property, a landlord-tenant relationship is established (even without a written lease), and with this relationship comes rights and responsibilities for both parties.
Basic Landlord Responsibilities
Keep the rental fit to live in. The landlord is required to provide housing that is habitable and to make repairs in a timely manner when required.
Quiet enjoyment. The landlord is required not to disturb the tenant’s rights to peacefully and reasonably use their rented space.
Basic Tenant Responsibilities
Pay rent on time. If the tenant does not pay rent in full and in a timely manner, the landlord has the right to take action to end the tenancy.
Cover excessive damages. Tenants are responsible to cover the costs of damages to the property beyond normal “wear and tear”.
With that said, Texas varies from other states on additional rights and responsibilities for both landlords and tenants. Texas law even varies on both the interpretation of the above rights and the rules on handling violations.
Warranty of Habitability in Texas
Landlord Responsibilities. Most US states maintain a set of landlord-tenant laws pertaining to the condition in which a landlord must preserve their units, even when they are occupied. These “warranty of habitability” laws are usually broken down into individual amenities that a landlord must provide and maintain in order for a unit to be considered “livable.”
Texas does have a warranty of habitability on the books, but it is considered one of the most open-ended in the nation. In fact, rather than enumerating which amenities a Texas landlord must provide and maintain, Texas simply requires their landlord to make repairs to existing amenities that would “materially affect the health or safety of an ordinary tenant.” The one exception to this broad mandate deals with hot water, which must be readily accessible at 120° F at all times.
As with other warranty of habitability laws, Texas tenants are implicitly implied to have a right to request repairs when one or more of the applicable amenities breaks down. When such an issue arises, tenants must promptly provide written notice to their landlord. Landlords are then required to make the repair within 7 days or provide notice to their tenant explaining why the repair was not feasible in that time frame.
Tenant Responsibilities. Tenants in Texas are responsible for maintaining their premises in a clean and safe condition, in accordance with state and local health and safety laws. If their unit becomes unsafe or unclean to the point that a landlord is concerned for the property’s physical condition or the safety of other tenants, they may inform their tenant accordingly. If the tenant in question does not immediately take steps to remedy the issue, then their landlord may have grounds to formalize an eviction.
Surprisingly, tenants in Texas are able to take one kind of “alternative action” against their landlord if they feel that their landlord has not adequately addressed their repair requests. Specifically, these tenants can perform a “repair and deduct” process, but only after providing prior notice of their intent to their landlord. These deductions cannot be valued at more than 1 month’s rent or $500.
Evictions in Texas
These are several causes for eviction that Texas puts forth as “legitimate” under state law:
- Nonpayment of rent – After the conclusion of any applicable grace period, tenants in Texas must promptly pay their rent. If they fail to do so, their landlord may provide them a 3-Day Notice to Vacate that dictates how and to what extent the missing rent must be paid. If the terms of this notice are not met by the end of the 3 days, the landlord may push for a formal eviction by filing a Forcible Entry and Detainer Suit.
- Violation of lease terms – Current Texas law does not require landlord to provide any notice of their intent to evict a tenant when that tenant breaks one or more terms of their lease agreement. However, it is still customary for the landlord to provide a 3-Day Notice to Vacate that describes what actions must be taken to cure the undesirable action or behavior that prompted the infraction.
- Illegal Acts – Under Texas law, any action or behavior that is deemed illegal by civic standards may prompt a landlord to initiate an eviction against an applicable tenant. In these cases, tenants are entitled to a 3-Day Notice to Vacate. However, if the illegal act involves public indecency, a Texas landlord is statutorily empowered to immediately terminate the applicable lease without notice.
Evictions without a lease. Tenants in Texas are entitled to certain levels of notice prior to an impending eviction, even if they do not maintain a lease agreement with their landlord. For example, when a tenant rents from month-to-month, they are entitled to 30 days advance notice prior to an eviction becoming active. Yearly renters with a fixed end date in their renting terms are not entitled to any notice, however, simply because they already know when they are expected to move out.
Illegal Evictions. Texas prohibits landlords operating within the state from evicting tenants on retaliatory grounds. As such, tenants cannot be evicted in Texas because they have requested a certain repair or exercised their rights as a tenant by filing a complaint with a local government agency.
Texas tenants can also not be evicted on chiefly discriminatory grounds. As such, all individuals who call into one of the state or federal protected classes may have cause to file a grievance against their landlord if they feel that their eviction was discriminatorily motivated.
Security Deposits in Texas
When it comes to collecting, maintaining, and redistributing security deposits, landlords in Texas are required to follow these statutory guidelines:
- Standard Limit / Maximum Amount – Texas does not currently maintain a statutory limit on how much a landlord operating in the state can charge as a security deposit. As such, it is implied that they can charge as much as they want on this front, including for supplementary deposits such as a pet deposit.
- Interest and Maintenance – Landlords in Texas are not required to deposit their collected funds in any type of special bank account or escrow. Similarly, Texas landlords need to maintain their security deposits in manner that accrues interest over time. At the conclusion of a lease agreement, any interest obtained in this manner squarely belongs to the landlord, not the applicable tenant.
- Time Limit for Return – In most cases, landlords in Texas have 30 days to return any and all held security deposit funds after a lease expires or is terminated. However, Texas landlords and tenants appeared to be able to modify this return period time limit as long as they follow certain requirements to how that modification is printed into the lease agreement.
- Penalty if Not Returned on Time – Bad faith attempts to withhold all or a portion of a tenant’s security deposit in Texas comes with a penalty of up to three times the value of the withheld deposit. Texas landlords in this situation may also be forced to pay a $100 per instance penalty as well as any relevant attorney’s fees.
- Allowable Deductions – Security deposits in Texas are to be used chiefly for covering the cost of repairs that fall outside regular “wear and tear.” This may include any amenities that are considered essential for habitability if the damage caused by them was caused by the tenant’s negligence.
Lease Termination in Texas
Notice Requirements. When a tenant in Texas intends to move out and terminate their lease early, they are required to give at least 30 days advance notice. This requirement applies to tenants both in an established lease agreement and those who are renting from a landlord “at will.” Month-to-month tenants are able to modify this notice period within the terms of their lease, however.
Legally Breaking a Lease Early. Most tenants in Texas who need to move before their lease expires choose to do so by activating an early termination clause in their lease. However, not all leases in Texas include this kind of provision. As such, the state allows tenants to break off their lease early for any of the following reasons:
- Active Military Duty – Federal law allows service members who are relocating due to deployment or permanent change of station to terminate their lease as early as 30 days from the next rent period.
- Unit is Uninhabitable – In Texas, landlords have a “reasonable” amount of time to make repairs to amenities that have been deemed “essential” for human habitability. If repairs are not made within this time frame (which is usually interpreted to be 7 days in length), then an affected tenant may consider their living space uninhabitable. This, in turn, gives them justification to seek an immediate lease termination on health and safety grounds.
- Landlord Harassment – Texas landlords are required to give notice before entering an occupied unit, but current state statutes do not specify how much notice must be given or in what format that notice must be provided. Even so, landlords who regularly enter an inhabited unit without notice (in a non-emergency situation) may be seen as invading that tenant’s privacy, which is itself grounds for immediate lease termination.
- Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking – Starting in 2021, domestic abuse, sexual assault, and stalking victims in Texas will have new rights to vacate their lease immediately after providing proof of their status to their landlord. These protections will also apply to parents and guardians of children who have experienced any of these crimes.
After breaking off a lease early, some Texas tenants may remain financially liable to pay rent on their former unit because of the provisions of their former lease. In these cases, a tenant’s obligation to pay may be terminated if a new tenant can be found. While tenants in Texas do not have a direct right to a sublease, most landlords will allow for such an accommodation in order to meet their own statutory obligation to re-rent a space in a timely manner.
Rent Increases & Related Fees in Texas
Rent control & increases. Current state laws in Texas preempt any kind of local “rent control” measure from taking effect. As such, landlords in Texas are free to charge as much as they want for rent and raise that rent without any stated reason. Texas even lacks statutory control over how much notice a landlord gives prior to a rent increase, making it possible for a willing landlord to modify how much rent they charge at almost any time.
Rent related fees. Currently, Texas lacks any statutes pertaining to specifically how much a landlord can charge a tenant for a late rent payment fee or a returned check fee. However, late payment fees are governed by a broad guideline that only allows for “reasonable” amounts to be charged when a tenant fails to pay rent on time. Bounced check fees, meanwhile, can be levied at any value due to the lack of statewide limitation.
Housing Discrimination in Texas
Federal Protections. The Fair Housing Act protects tenants from being discriminated against due to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. However, the law does not apply to all housing, such as owner-occupied homes with 4 or fewer units or housing operated by religious organizations.
State Protections. While Texas does maintain its own fair housing act, these statutes do not enumerate any extra protected classes beyond those outlined in the federal Fair Housing Act. As such, individuals who feel that they have been discriminated against while seeking out housing or while contracted in a lease agreement may only complain to the state if their discrimination originates from their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or religion.
Discriminatory Acts & Penalties. The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs handles issues relating to fair housing in the Lone Star State. Among other actions that may be considered discriminatory, this department highlights the following business practices as being the most likely to cause liability when they are initiated by a landlord:
- Misrepresenting the availability of housing
- Requiring or instituting different leasing conditions
- Advertising direct or indirect limitations or preferences for prospective tenants
- Harassment, verbal intimidations, vandalism, or unwanted sexual advances
- Refusing to make reasonable accommodations
- “Steering” tenants towards living in neighborhoods or complexes that may be seen as segregated
Tenants in Texas who feel that their fair housing rights have been violated can report their complaint online here. Texas tenants are also advised to reach out to their local fair housing authority, which are typically located in the state’s largest cities. Tenants who file complaints will have their cases evaluated in a timely manner, though specific penalties will vary from case to case.
Additional Landlord Tenant Regulations in Texas
These are few supplementary landlord-tenant laws that you may find useful when trying to evaluate or justify the actions of the opposite party.
Landlord Entry. Texas landlords are statutorily required to give notice before entering an occupied unit. That being said, the same statutes do not dictate how much notice must be given or the medium in which that notice must be communicated. As such, landlords in Texas are fairly free to set the terms of their own right to entry, so long as their tenant agrees to the same in their lease agreement.
Though it is not explicitly stated, it is assumed that any right to entry limitations included in a lease agreement do not inherently apply to emergency situations. This is because most tenants in Texas accept the belief that their landlord may enter without notice when an emergency situation is imminent.
Small Claims Court. Texas’ small claims court system is regularly utilized by landlords and tenants who are looking to formalize their disputes. However, this court system only accepts cases valued at less than $10,000. Either party may bring legal representation into their case as well, regardless of their opponent’s decision to do so.
Mandatory Disclosures. Texas landlords are required to make the following disclosures to their tenants at the beginning of their lease. This is for the purpose of informing them of potential safety hazards as well as their rights as a tenant:
- Lead-based paint. For houses built prior to 1978, federal law requires landlords to provide tenants with information about lead based paint hazards. Read more.
- Managers and Agents. As part of a lease agreement, Texas landlords must identify the names and addresses of all managers and agents assigned to their tenant’s building.
- Right to Repair and Deduct. Within the terms of a new lease agreement, landlords in Texas must provide language that clearly communicates that a tenant has the right to “repair and deduct” during the course of the lease. This kind of disclosure should ideally outline the process for filing a “repair and deduct” motion, as well.
- Right to Break a Lease for Special Conditions. Starting in 2021, landlords in Texas will be required to include language in their lease agreements that outline a tenant’s rights to terminate a lease under special conditions. These conditions apply to victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and similar types of intimate personal injury.
Changing the Locks. Texas law technically allows for lockouts in a limited number of circumstances. However, it still explicitly prohibits landlords from changing their tenants locks without permission when that tenant occupies the applicable unit. However, if they receive permission, landlords in Texas may only change their tenant’s locks once in a given rental period.
Local Laws in Texas
Landlord tenant rights are not exclusively governed by state law. Cities and counties may enact their own rules and regulations for renters.
Dallas Landlord Tenant Rights
The city of Dallas provides some extra protections against landlord retaliation in their local civic code. Specifically, landlords are prohibited from increasing rent or diminishing provided services in response to a formal complaint against their actions. More information can be found here.
Austin Landlord Tenant Rights
Tenants in the city of Austin are entitled to take part in a variety of programs relating to fair housing and landlord-tenant mediation. These programs are provided by the Austin Tenants Council, which can be contacted digitally here.
San Antonio Landlord Tenant Rights
The city of San Antonio maintains several fair housing programs designed to help in-need tenants find the financial support they need. These services, which include mortgage assistance and landlord-tenant mediation, can be found here.
Houston Landlord Tenant Rights
The city of Houston maintains a law called the “Security Device Law of 1993” that requires security devices installed into rental units within the city to meet several performance based standards. This covers key-based lock systems, bolt-based door locks, and window locks. In effect, these laws create more specific standards by which the state’s habitability requirements on this front can be judged. More information about this law can be found here.
Fort Worth Landlord Tenant Rights
The city of Forth Worth requires landlords to provide notice to their tenants when their failure to pay a utility bill may result in that utility’s cessation. Specifically, the landlord in question must wait 7 days after the bill’s due date before issuing a 5-Day Notice to pay. After this notice expires, the landlord may shut off that tenant’s utility access. More details on this policy can be found here.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can a landlord enter without permission in Texas?
Under Texas law, landlords cannot enter an occupied unit without advance notice. However, these same laws do not specify how much or what kind of notice is required for proper entry. As such, it is assumed that landlords and tenants must set these standards on their own. Exceptions may be made for emergency situations, though, as permission-less entry is usually justified in those cases.
How much notice does a landlord have to give a tenant to move out in Texas?
In almost all cases, Texas landlords only need to provide 3 days of advance notice when they intend for that tenant to move out. This includes situations where an eviction is justified by a lease violation or an illegal act. Landlords in Texas may not even be required to provide any notice, particularly in cases where a lease agreement ends on a fixed date.
Is Texas a “landlord friendly” state?
Texas is a very landlord friendly state. This is because it places almost no limits on key landlord behaviors, including how much they charge for rent and when they may enter an occupied unit. Texas also does not enumerate specific amenities (with one exception) that a landlord must provide or maintain, thus allowing them to minimize their obligation to repair with extreme precision.
What are a tenant’s rights in Texas?
Tenant’s rights in Texas are relatively minor, though still noteworthy. For example, Texas tenants have a right to seek out and enter into leasing agreements without facing discrimination that decreases their ability to enjoy safe housing on their own terms. Texas tenants also have a right to repair certain amenities and deduct the associated cost from their next payment (subject to certain limitations and notification requirements).
Can a tenant change the locks in Texas?
Texas’ current laws do not clearly prohibit tenants from changing their own locks. As such, it is assumed that they can do so (though providing notice to their landlord is still recommended). Landlords, on the other hand, can only change their tenant’s locks once per rental period and only under certain circumstances. Otherwise, their action may be viewed as an illegal lockout.