In Texas, as in most states, landlords must provide tenants with notice in order to enter the rental unit. Texas law provides that tenants' rights include “quiet enjoyment,” meaning a landlord cannot disturb a tenant without cause. Exceptions are that a landlord may enter a tenant’s unit if they believe an emergency is occurring, such as a fire.
A landlord may also enter the property to take possession under the landlord’s lien law or if they seek to possess the unit to effect an eviction.
May Landlord Enter Without Permission?
A landlord may enter the tenant’s unit without the tenant’s permission if they have cause to do so. Unless the lease agreement says otherwise, the landlord typically may not enter except in emergencies, for routine inspections or repairs, or when the landlord has provided the tenant with advance notice. Lease terms may state that a landlord must provide the tenant with written notice of their intent to enter.
The landlord does not need the tenant’s permission to enter the rental property if they are entering with cause, for example to repair an appliance upon the tenant’s request. The landlord should make an effort to communicate with the tenant as to a good time to enter.
For example, if the tenant works from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is not in their unit during this time, it would be a good time for the landlord or their maintenance team to enter the unit to make repairs.
Accessing Texas Tenant’s Personal Property
The landlord may not access the tenant’s personal property without the tenant’s permission. The exception to this rule is if the tenant’s property poses a threat to the tenant; the tenant’s guests; tenants and guests in adjacent attached units; or to the dwelling units themselves.
For example, if food cooking caught fire, the landlord could enter the unit to put the fire out.
A tenant can refuse a landlord visit if the landlord does not have good cause to enter the unit; the landlord is not posting a notice under the landlord’s lien law; or the landlord is not seeking to possess the unit to effect an eviction.
Landlord's Lien Law
One exception to the general rule is provided by the landlord’s lien law. This law states that when the lease provides that a landlord can enter to take nonexempt property without a court action, the landlord may do so. The landlord can take nonexempt property to satisfy an unpaid portion of the rent.
Nonexempt property includes:
- Wearing apparel.
- Tools, apparatus and books of a trade or profession.
- Family library.
- Family portraits and pictures.
- One couch, two living room chairs, and a dining table and chairs.
- Beds and bedding.
- Kitchen furniture and utensils.
- Food and foodstuffs.
- Medicine and medical supplies.
- One automobile and one truck.
- Agricultural implements.
- Children's toys not commonly used by adults.
- Goods that landlord or landlord's agent knows are owned by a person other than the tenant or an occupant of the residence.
- Goods that landlord or landlord's agent knows are subject to a recorded chattel mortgage or financing agreement.
A chattel mortgage is a loan used to purchase an item of movable personal property, such as a piece of electronic equipment.
Repair of Residential Unit
State law provides that a landlord has a duty to repair or remedy most conditions in a tenant’s unit that affect the tenant’s health and safety. The exception is if the tenant causes the damage through abnormal use.
The tenant must follow the proper procedure to request repairs, such as calling a number provided by the landlord, explaining the problem, and stating when the tenant will be out of the unit.
If the rental agreement states that a tenant waives their rights by requiring the landlord to make repairs, a prospective renter should not sign the lease. Such clauses are usually considered void. Texas law does not require a landlord to repair a condition that does not affect the tenant’s health and safety, like a broken dishwasher.
Landlord Harassment Against Tenant
Landlord harassment is defined as filing or prosecuting a suit in bad faith or for purposes of harassment in order to discourage the tenant from fulfilling the terms of their lease agreement.
A landlord who files or prosecutes a suit under Subchapters B, D, E or F of Texas Property Code, Title 8, Chapter 92 (landlord and tenant code on residential tenancies) in bad faith or for purposes of harassment is liable to the tenant for one month’s rent, plus $100 and attorney’s fees:
- Subchapter B: Concerns repairs or closing of the lease agreement.
- Subchapter D: Concerns security devices, like locks.
- Subchapter E: Concerns disclosure of ownership and management of the unit and the complex in which it is located.
- Subchapter F: Concerns smoke alarms and fire extinguishers.
Restrictions on Texas Landlords
A landlord is prohibited from numerous actions that violate the lease agreement and Texas laws. Examples include:
- Foregoing the duty to install smoke alarms or waiving a tenant’s limited right of installation and removal of a smoke alarm.
- Interrupting or causing the interruption of utility services paid for directly to the utility company by a tenant. The exception is if the interruption results from bona fide repairs, construction or an emergency.
- Interrupting or causing the interruption of water, wastewater, gas or electric services furnished to a tenant by the landlord under a signed lease agreement unless the interruption results from bona fide repairs, construction or an emergency.
Generally, a landlord must provide a tenant with a habitable unit, offer the tenant quiet enjoyment of the unit, and repair any condition that materially affects the tenant’s physical health or safety.
Move-out and Security Deposits
A tenant should make a written list noting the condition of the unit on the day they move in. The list helps avoid disputes when they move out and may help to ensure a return of their security deposit. A tenant may use their security deposit to pay any rental payment owed, without having to get a court order.
A tenant who properly terminates their lease because of the landlord's failure to meet the landlord's obligations, such as provide the tenant with the right to quiet enjoyment of the property, may sue the landlord.
If the court finds in the tenant's favor, the tenant may recover one month’s rent as well as $500, actual damages, attorney’s fees and court costs. A tenant who does not properly terminate their lease may not sue the landlord to get a reduction in rent or have a condition repaired. They also may not exercise any repair and deduct remedies.
Deductions from the Security Deposit
When a tenant moves out, the landlord must return their security deposit unless they have a legitimate reason to deduct an amount from the deposit, such as for damage to the unit. The landlord cannot keep the security deposit just because the tenant terminated the lease.
If a tenant paid slightly earlier than the due date for the rent, like at the end of the month before rent was due, the landlord cannot earn the rent yet.
This is because the landlord earns the rent in the next month. If a tenant moves out with unearned rent in the landlord's accounting ledger, the landlord must refund the unearned rent. If the landlord does not, or wrongfully withholds the tenant's security deposit, the tenant can file suit against the landlord.
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.