Legal Rights of Texas Renters

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Texas tenants are not only protected by state landlord-tenant laws as set out in Texas Property Code, Chapter 92, they are also covered by some sweeping federal protections. Some counties and cities have their own laws that increase tenants' protections. In addition, Texas renters are able to count on their rights set out in a rental or lease contract.

The broadest coverage is from federal laws that apply to tenants in every state, including Texas. Texas state laws are not particularly tenant-friendly; they prohibit any county, city and local laws that set caps on rent increases.

Federal Fair Housing Law

Federal housing laws, applicable in all states including Texas, set a threshold for tenant protections. Texas, like other states, has the right to offer increased protection in the areas covered by federal laws, but they cannot decrease those protections.

One of these laws is the Federal Fair Housing Law, which prohibits discrimination in housing based on certain protected categories.

Protect Renter Categories

Under this federal civil rights law, it is illegal for landlords to discriminate against renters or to make rental decisions on the basis of certain, protected categories. These include:

  • Race.
  • Sex.
  • Religion.
  • Familial status.
  • Disabilities.
  • Nationality.
  • Ethnicity.

The federal law also provides for federal enforcement of these antidiscrimination laws. Tenant complaints can be filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) online or by phone. Note that Texas has passed a state law to implement the federal law.

Americans With Disabilities Act

Another federal law covers renters with disabilities. This law, the Americans with Disabilities Act, protects people with disabilities from discrimination in housing, as well as in other areas of life including employment. A disabled tenant can rely on protection under the ADA in Texas, as well as in all other states.

The ADA requires landlords (and employers) to make reasonable accommodations for a tenant with a disability. However, landlords will not be required to make expensive structural modifications, such as installing an elevator in an old building, but new construction can be required that provides access for mobility-impaired persons.

Texas Civil Rights Laws

Texas has its own state Fair Housing Act. To a large extent, this duplicates the provisions of the federal act and protects a tenant's right to rent an apartment, buy a home, obtain a mortgage or purchase homeowner's insurance free from discrimination based on the protected categories set out in the Federal Fair Housing ACT.

Some cities, counties and other municipalities in Texas have additional housing discrimination laws to protect additional group, but the state law does not extend protections to groups not outlined in the Fair Housing Act.

Texas makes exceptions, however, for certain types of dwelling units. These include owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units; single-family housing sold or rented without the use of a broker; and housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.

HUD Fair Housing Regulations

The Texas law, administered though the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs ( TDHCA), is intended to make certain that the state housing and housing assistance programs comply with HUD’s requirements and regulations regarding fair housing.

TDHCA’s fair housing staff also administer Texas Administrative Code rules related to reasonable accommodations, written policies and procedures, and affirmative marketing.

Texas Rental Contract Laws

In Texas, an oral rental agreement is as valid as a written agreement in most cases. The sole exception is that leases over 12 months in duration must be in writing; shorter-term rental contracts can be oral. However, enforcing one's rights is always easier under a written lease agreement where the landlord-tenant provisions are spelled out.

This eliminates disagreements about the terms of the agreement, so it is a good idea for both landlords and tenants to insist on a written contract.

Implied Renters' Rights

Under Texas codes, some tenant rights need not be set out in the terms of a written contract. That is, once an individual becomes a tenant by entering into a written or oral rental contract, they are granted certain rights whether or not they are spelled out in the contract. These rights are implied in every rental contract by law.

One implied right is the right to a safe and livable dwelling, known as the implied covenant of habitability. Another implied right is the right to quiet enjoyment of the renter's property.

Implied Covenant of Habitability

Like in many states, Texas law implies in every rental contract (oral or written) the rule that the landlord must provide a habitable dwelling and make all reasonable requested repairs necessary to keep it that way.

Many states enumerate the type of facilities that a rental unit must offer a tenant under this warranty, often including these guarantees:

  • Structure of the unit is sound.
  • Heating and cooling systems are functional.
  • Plumbing and sanitation systems are functional.
  • Electrical outlets and plugs are up to code.
  • Fire exits are accessible.
  • Unit is free of bed bugs.

Warranty of Habitability

However, in Texas, landlords and tenants operate with a less detailed warranty of habitability. Texas law provides only that all units must have hot water and smoke detectors. Other than these, the law requires only that landlords make repairs to existing amenities that “materially affect the health or safety of an ordinary tenant.”

Note that, under this Texas law, a landlord would not be required to repair a condition that does not affect health or safety, like a defective dishwasher, for example.

Responding to Repair Requests

If a broken amenity falls into the health and safety category, a landlord must respond to repair requests within seven days. For an issue as important as a lack of drinking water or heat, they must respond within three days.

When Texas landlords do not respond to a tenant's appropriate requests within the given time frame, tenants can make the necessary repairs themselves and deduct the cost from future rental payments.

They can also file a health and safety complaint with the state or terminate the rental if it becomes uninhabitable due to an insured casualty loss such as a hurricane. It is illegal for landlords to evict tenants in retaliation for exercising their housing rights.

Implied Right to Quiet Enjoyment

In Texas, a tenant is protected by the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment of the premises. This covenant means that a tenant cannot be subjected to undue disturbances that could negatively impact their enjoyment of the premises.

In every residential tenancy, a tenant has an implied right under the law to the peaceable enjoyment of their rental property and a right of privacy in their own home.

Landlord Right to Entry

Privacy comes into play most often when a landlord intrudes into the unit frequently or without notice. Sometimes this issue is addressed in a lease or rental agreement, but often, it is not. In that case, under Texas law, the landlord has no right to enter the rental unit except for emergencies, scheduled repairs or routine inspections.

The landlord must, except in the case of emergencies, like a fire, provide the tenant with reasonable advance notice before entering the rental unit.

Texas Security Deposit Laws

The return of security deposits can be a contentious issue between landlords and tenants. In Texas, the law addresses some security deposit issues.

Security deposits are described in Texas codes as "any advance of money, other than a rental application deposit or an advance payment of rent, that is intended primarily to secure performance under a lease of a dwelling that has been entered into by a landlord and a tenant."

Texas does not limit the size of these deposits as some states do. Nor does it require that a landlord place the deposit money in a separate account. But the law does specify that the deposit must be returned within 30 days after a tenant moves out if the tenant gives the landlord their forwarding address in writing.

Use and Return of Security Deposit Money

The landlord can use some or all of the deposit money to cover rent amounts that are due and owing, damages to the premises other than normal wear and tear, and damages or charges incurred under the terms of the lease. The landlord must provide an itemized list with the description of all deductions taken from the deposit amount.

If a Texas landlord fails to return the security deposit when due, the tenant can recover up to three times the amount of the unpaid deposit. They can also seek a $100 fine for each instance, and recover relevant attorney's fees.

Rent Increases in Texas

In Texas, rental agreements for a set term, such as one year, require the tenant to pay their monthly lease amount for the full stated term of the agreement. During these lease terms, the landlord cannot increase the rental amount until the lease term ends.

If a tenant wants to continue renting at the end of the lease term, they should find out whether the terms of the lease will change.

Rent increases for periodic tenancies, like month-to-month tenancies, are treated differently. Texas law does not limit rent increases in periodic tenancies as long as 30 days' notice is given. Also, state law prohibits cities or counties from imposing rent control.

Terminating a Tenancy in Texas

Tenants of set-term leases cannot be asked to leave early unless they have breached the terms of their lease. Generally, they are obligated to pay rent for the entire term.

If they move out of the rental early in Texas, the landlord is required under law to make reasonable attempts to find a new renter as soon as possible in order to limit the obligations of a tenant who leaves early.

Sometimes Texas renters have the right to break a lease legally in other situations, as well. For instance, tenants can terminate a lease early and avoid liability when they are displaced because of:

  • Military service.
  • Domestic violence.
  • Landlord harassment or privacy violations.
  • Unsafe living conditions.

Terminating a month-to-month tenancy can be done by either party with thirty days' written notice. That means that a landlord can get rid of a month-to-month tenant even if they do nothing wrong by simply giving them adequate notice.

Eviction Process in Texas

Eviction is a judicial process to force a tenant to leave a unit. Most Texas evictions result from a situation where the tenant stops paying rent. However, a landlord can seek eviction if the tenant breaks a term of the rental agreement or fails to move out when a tenancy is terminated.

Evictions require the landlord to serve the tenant with a notice to vacate, which is different than a nonrenewal notice.

If the landlord terminates a tenancy and files an eviction suit, the tenant can defend themselves by proving that the landlord was retaliating against them for lawfully exercising their rights. For example, this could be retaliation by the landlord for a rent deduction lawfully made by the tenant because the landlord failed to remedy a dangerous condition.

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