A leasing agreement between a landlord and tenant, like all legal agreements, is a binding contract. In Texas, landlords and tenants are expected to honor both the express terms of the contract and those implied to their relationship by the provisions of Texas state law. It is important for renters, property managers and rental unit owners to understand the conditions that justify a landlord's breaking the lease under state law.
Terminating a Lease
Under most normal circumstances, a landlord is allowed to break a lease with adequate prior notice. Title 8, Chapter 91 of the Texas Property Code lays out the notice requirements for lease termination under regular conditions when a tenant's rent is not delinquent. A landlord is allowed to terminate the lease with advance notice to the tenant at least the length of the rent period. Under this statute, a lease with a monthly rent period may be terminated with at least a month's notice.
Nonpayment of Rent
If a tenant fails to pay the rent, the landlord is allowed to break the lease and move forward with eviction on a shorter timeline. If the tenant is delinquent in rent by at least seven days, the landlord is allowed to provide a 72-hour notice of termination. Texas state laws allow landlords to shorten this notice period, but only if they specify a shorter period in a written lease agreement. After the notice period has elapsed, the landlord may proceed with eviction in court.
For all leases signed after 2008, landlords are allowed to change the locks on a tenant's doors when breaking the lease for nonpayment. As with eviction, the landlord is required to give the tenant at least three days notice of intent to change the locks, according to eNotes and the Texas State Bar. According to the state attorney general, the landlord must also expressly claim the authority to change the locks in the lease agreement. Even under this provision, the landlord still cannot evict a tenant without a court order, so must give the tenant new keys if requested until a court order is obtained.
Landlords that fail to follow the requirements of Texas state laws on breaking a lease may be subject to legal action from the tenant. Tenants can sue for any damages associated with a breach of the lease, including failure to make repairs or provide adequate notice of the intention to terminate. This is true in cases of nonpayment as well, though landlords can also petition for eviction and lockout of the tenant. In Texas, a tenant cannot withhold rent even if a landlord fails to uphold the landlord's responsibilities under the lease agreement, though the law may permit the tenant to terminate the lease early.