Texas has no rent control laws to stabilize rental unit costs. It is one of the states with the most pro-landlord laws in the country, and very few tenant protections find their way into the statutes. Before renting an apartment or a house in Texas, it pays to get an overview of the landlord-tenant laws in general and, in particular, about when and to what extent rent increases are regulated.
Rental Agreements as Contracts
To form a tenancy, a landlord and a tenant must enter into a contract with each party agreeing to its terms. This contract must be in writing for a lease of a year or more, but most Texas rental contracts – both leases and periodic tenancy agreements – are written, not oral. That means that contract law plays a large role in landlord-tenant relationships. This works well when the parties have approximately equal bargaining power.
But unlike with many business contracts, landlords and residential tenants are rarely equals when they come to the bargaining table to sign a lease agreement. Generally landlords hold the cards, and many tenants eager to find a dwelling will sign whatever contract language the landlord puts before them.
Legal Rights of Renters
This inequality of bargaining power is recognized by many states, and it is one of the reasons they pass laws to protect the interests of tenants, particularly where it comes to rent increases and evictions. These laws are generally termed rent control laws, since regulating rent increases and stabilizing rent are core purposes. But rent control laws, for example, in parts of California, also limit or forbid no-fault evictions and set up procedures for tenants to take action if the landlord refuses to repair their units or to give them quiet enjoyment.
In some states, California included, individual cities are permitted to enact rent control ordinances to control landlord-tenant relationships in that municipality. The state also offers tenant protections, but cities like San Francisco, Berkeley, Los Angeles and Oakland have even stricter rent control provisions and eviction protections. The rent control laws generally limit rent increases each year to a percentage set by the rent control board, usually a calculation tied to inflation rates.
Texas Rent Control
Texas does not offer tenants in the state any type of rent control protection. The only protections are a matter of contract law. That is, if a landlord and tenant sign a lease under which the tenant leases the dwelling unit for a specified term like a year, the landlord is not permitted to raise the rent during this period as a matter of contract law. But state statutes offer no protection to the tenants who wish to stay on at the end of the lease, or to tenants who enter into a month-to-month contract.
Not only are Texas laws silent as far as residential rent increases are concerned, but state law actually forbids counties and municipalities from enacting any laws limiting or restricting rent increases. Although Texas does have some landlord-tenant laws, none regulate rental costs or rent increases. Rather, landlord-tenant relations in the state depend largely, though not entirely, on the language of the lease or periodic tenancy contract.
The only time a Texas municipality is authorized to enact rent control measures is if it determines that a disaster, like a catastrophic weather event or public calamity, has created a housing emergency. This type of ordinance must be approved by the governor before it can go into effect and must be cancelled once the state of disaster is over.
Results of No Rent Control
The fact that Texas state laws forbid any type of nonemergency rent control can present real problems for long-term tenants. The purpose of rent control is to stabilize rents. Most rent control laws do not put a cap on the amount a landlord can ask for rent when they initially put the unit on the rental market. Rather, these laws generally attempt to stabilize rents by limiting rent increases to existing tenants.
Rent control jurisdictions forbid rent increases during the term of a residential lease, and Texas does this as well. That is, if a tenant agrees to pay $1,500 a month for a dwelling unit and signs a two year lease, the landlord cannot ask the tenant for more than $1,500 a month during the two-year lease term. In fact, this is basic contract law and, absent lease language to the contrary, it is the case in all states.
What happens after the lease is over, however, is hardly uniform. If a tenant continues living in the unit with the landlord's permission after the termination of the lease, they might renew the lease for another period of years if the landlord agrees. More often, however, the tenancy "rolls over" into a month-to-month tenancy. The rent that the landlord can charge in a month-to-month tenancy is limited to the percentage rent hike permitted by law if the unit is under rent control.
No Limits on Rental Rates for Texas Tenants
In Texas, however, there are no limits to the amount a landlord can charge. If the demand for rentals in the area is high, the landlord can charge double the $1,500, or even triple that amount, whatever the market will bear. Texas law requires that the landlord give tenants 30 days' notice before increasing the rent.
That means that once the lease ends, the landlord can give the tenants advance notice on June 1 that the $1,500 monthly lease payment for that month will be increased to $4,500 (or any other amount) as of July 1. While this is more liable to happen in areas where demand outpaces rental space, that is often the case in popular, urban areas.
Termination of Texas Lease Tenancy
If a tenant in Texas signs a residential lease for a set term, the landlord cannot terminate the tenancy during that period without cause. That is, in the example of a two-year lease for $1,500 a month, the tenants can count on staying in the dwelling unit for the full two-year term as long as they fulfill their responsibilities under the contract. Those responsibilities may vary depending on contract language, but always include such terms as timely monthly lease payments, following the rules set out in the contract regarding pets on the premises, smoking in the unit and noise levels.
If the lease holder fails to pay rent or violates a term of the lease, the landlord can give the tenant notice that the lease is terminated and file an eviction action. Even if the lease does not forbid illegal activities on the premises, it will constitute grounds for termination of the lease and eviction in Texas.
Termination of Month-to-Month Tenancy
Sometimes people move into a Texas rental property as month-to-month tenants. This means that they are committing to stay only for one month, and the landlord is only committing to allow the rental for one month. However, most month-to-month tenancies continue for years. And lease tenants turn into month-to-month tenants if they stay on after the lease term without signing a new lease.
Nonetheless, there is no guarantee that the Texas landlord will allow month-to-month tenants to remain longer than the one month. Landlords in Texas can terminate a month-to-month tenancy for almost any reason or for no reason. They can end the tenancy with a 30-day notice because they have a friend who wants to move in, they don't like the tenant's pickup truck, or they found a tenant who will pay more. They can send a termination of tenancy notice without even specifying a reason.
Note that a month-to-month tenant has the same luxury. Unlike a lease tenant, a month-to-month tenant can decide to move out for any reason at all at any time. All that is required in Texas is 30 days' notice to the landlord. However, it can be argued that it is much more difficult for a tenant whose lease is terminated to find a new home and move in 30 days than it is for a landlord to lose a tenant. In rent control jurisdictions, a tenancy cannot be terminated without cause.
Exceptions to the Rule: Discrimination
There are exceptions to every rule, and this includes a Texas landlord's right to terminate a month-to-month tenancy for any or no reason. The law does prohibit evictions or rent increases based on illegal discrimination as well as "retaliatory" evictions.
Federal law, as well as the state's Fair Housing Act, prohibits discrimination against individuals on the basis of their race, country of origin, gender or sexual orientation, religion, age, or disability. If a landlord raises a unit's monthly rent sky high because they do not like the fact that the tenants are a same-sex couple, or they do not want a particular nationality in the building, this is illegal discrimination.
The Texas Workforce Commission is responsible for enforcing the state's Fair Housing Act. A tenant who believes they were given a rent increase or a termination notice because of illegal discrimination can file a complaint with the agency. It is possible to fill out a Housing Discrimination Complaint form online as well. Other organizations accept discrimination complaints in different cities, including Austin, Dallas, and Forth Worth.
Exception to the Rule: Retaliation
Retaliatory rent increases or terminations are a different issue. This is when the landlord raises the rent or decides to end the tenancy to punish the tenant for taking actions that the landlord doesn't like, even actions that are legal. A classic example is when a tenant brings building code violations to the attention of the local health department, and the landlord doubles the rent. It is illegal to retaliate for a repair request. Another is when a landlord is unsuccessful in an attempt to evict the tenant, then doubles the rent.
Texas law specifies that a landlord may not retaliate against a tenant by terminating the tenancy, decreasing services to the tenant, or raising the rent just because the tenant:
- Exercises against a landlord a right or remedy granted to the tenant by lease, municipal ordinance or federal or state statute.
- Gives a landlord a notice to repair or exercise a remedy under this chapter.
- Complains to those responsible for enforcing building or housing codes, a public utility, or a civic or nonprofit agency, claiming that a building or housing code violation or utility problem exists.
- Establishes or participates in a tenant organization.
If a landlord violates this law, the tenant can go to court and sue for money damages. They can get a penalty in the amount of one month's rent plus $500, actual damages, court costs and reasonable attorney's fees.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.