Texas Rent Control Laws

By Dan Ketchum - Updated August 08, 2018
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In Texas, the state motto is simple: "Friendship." In fact, the word "texas" or "tejas" itself was the local Spanish pronunciation of a Caddo tribe word that roughly translates to "friends." And, in a state known for making everything bigger, that means there's lots of room for friendship to thrive.

When it comes to rental housing in the Lone Star State, however, it's more than fair to say that Texas is a whole heck of a lot "friendlier" to landlords than it is to tenants. Though Texas laws do offer some protections for tenants, the state may want to consider changing its unofficial motto from "don't mess with Texas" to something like, "Don't mess with Texas landlords."

Tip

Texas does not offer any sort of rent control laws for tenants, though it does offer other protections.

What Is Rent Control?

What is rent control, anyway? Renters in U.S. states such as California and New York (the former of which has rent control laws in only 15 of its 450 municipalities, despite its reputation as a banner state for these types of pro-tenant laws) are protected by rent control laws, a practice also known as rent stabilization. To put it shortly, rent control limits the amount that landlords can raise the rent for their apartment tenants each year after the term of the lease agreement expires. Typically, the amount – expressed in a percentage, such as 3 or 4 percent (usually no more than 5 percent and no less than 1 percent) – reflects the Consumer Price Index, meaning that it's essentially tied to inflation rates. In most cases, these laws apply only to apartments, and not to condos or single-family homes, even when they're inhabited as rentals.

Despite the label, rent control laws extend beyond just the monetary rent figure itself. These tenant-friendly rules and protections regulate evictions, helping ensure that tenants can't be kicked out just so landlords can increase rent. Ideally, rent stabilization laws aim to ensure a fair market return on investment for property owners, too.

Rent Control: Pros and Cons

As you might've guessed, rent control intends to stabilize the cost of housing, theoretically enabling economic diversity in major cities and keeping it affordable for people to keep roofs over their heads. Likewise, it seeks to prevent tenants from suffering out-of-control rental rate spikes or other exploitative practices from property owners. Proponents often view housing as a fundamental human right, and rent control helps ensure that people have access to that right.

On the flip side, some economists believe that the practice may actually have a negative impact on tenants and the housing market by reducing the financial incentive for developers to build housing, thus reducing the amount of available rental housing. In housing markets with less housing supply to meet the demand of hungry renters, rents may actually increase for tenants.

Does Texas Have Rent Control?

So, does Texas have rent control? The answer's a clear "no."

Though Texan landlords have to abide by the rent amount set in the renter's lease while the lease period is active, no counties in the state of Texas have rent control or rent stabilization laws in place as of 2018.

This means that when your lease expires and you start renting month-to-month in the state of Texas, your landlord is legally able to increase your rent to any amount. Of course, a rental increase is more liable to happen in areas where demand outpaces rental space.

Once the lease is up, the landlord may choose to terminate the lease for any reason (though exceptions may apply for renters subsidized via the state's Housing Tax Credit program for low-income residents).

Similarly, Texas does not offer any sort of "buyer's remorse" laws for leases, despite the widespread common belief that it does. While you may have heard through the grapevine that tenants have three days after signing a lease to cancel said lease without repercussion, that's just not true – that lease is legally binding as soon as the document is signed by the tenant and property owner. That said, if you sign a lease but don't move in by the lease's start date, you are entitled to a refund of your security deposit.

Exceptions to the Rule

According to Section 214.902 of the Texas Property Code, which governs rental properties and legality related to landlord-tenant relationships, there exist a few very specific exceptions to the state's "no rent control" rules.

By law, the governing body of a Texan municipality may establish rent control if that body finds that a housing emergency exists due to a disaster (with the term "disaster" defined in Section 418.004 – typically widespread damage, such as that of a catastrophic weather event or public calamity). The ordinance must be approved by the governor, and the rent control is discontinued once the state of disaster is concluded.

Defining the disaster and the habitability of the rental home may get sticky, as many Houston renters learned the hard way during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Some landlords demanded rent from tenants who had fled their flooded homes, taking advantage of specific Texas Property Code wording and citing the technicality that the homes were "partially unusable" and not "totally unusable."

Tenant Rent Protections

Despite the lack of rent increase laws in Texas, the state doesn't leave tenants out to dry completely. If your landlord does decide to increase your rental rate once you start renting on a month-to-month basis, you must be informed of the rent hike in writing at least 30-days prior to the increase taking effect.

While Texas property owners may be able to raise rental rates as high as they want, the law protects tenants from certain types of rental rate increases that are the product of discrimination or are considered retaliatory in nature. Landlords cannot legally increase rent in an effort to force tenants out of the property in question on the basis of their race, gender or sexual orientation, religion, country of origin, age, or disability, for instance.

In the latter case – retaliatory rent increases – let's say your landlord recently attempted to evict you, but with a little help from the tenants rights activists at the Texas Tenants' Union, you were able to fight the eviction and rightfully stay at your residence. It would then be illegal for your landlord to turn around and raise your rent, unless she's able to prove that the surge was not a retaliatory gesture.

If you do receive notice of a rent increase, you can ask your landlord to renew your lease, as well. While this isn't a legal requirement for landlords, a new lease with the new rental rate will keep her from imposing further rental spikes during the term of the lease. So, being a responsible and reliable renter might just pay off in this situation (that means no more Tuesday night house parties for you).

Other Tenant Rights

Texas law lends tenants the right to "quiet enjoyment" of their residence, which means a couple of different things. For one, it means that your landlord must protect you from the wrongful behavior of other tenants insofar as it affects your ability to live in peace. It also means that your landlord cannot evict you without cause during the term of your lease – which, in most cases, would definitely put a damper on the whole "enjoyment" thing.

Think you've had enough "quiet enjoyment" of your apartment? Just as landlords may choose to terminate the rental lease for any reason once the agreed-upon term ends, so can tenants.

When you rent property in Texas, state law guarantees that living conditions must be up to par in terms of health and safety. If conditions in your rental can negatively affect your material health or safety, your landlord is required to make repairs. Under Senate Bill 1448, a justice of the peace may order landlords to make necessary repairs (so long as those repairs have a price tag of $10,000 or under). Tenants can even go to justice court sans attorney to get their hands on a repair order.

Repairs aren't the only requirement; Texan tenants have the right to security in their homes. Landlords must provide basic security measures, which include fully functional locks, deadbolts on exterior doors, window latches, peep holes and latches or bars on sliding doors.

Most tenants' rights in Texas are defined by Chapter 92 of the Texas Property Code and by a variety of court rulings from the state's history, as the official website of the state Attorney General says, "the most important source of information about your relationship with your landlord is your rental agreement, whether it is written or oral."

Texas Eviction Laws

Now that you know your basic rental and tenants' rights, what is the eviction process in Texas? No matter how high a rent hike may be, if you don't pay it or otherwise violate the terms of your lease, you might just find an eviction notice on your door. But how long do you have after an eviction notice in Texas?

If your lease doesn't specify the answer to that question in writing, state law dictates that tenants are entitled to three days of notice before they have to move out. However, a rental agreement may specify eviction terms with as little as one day's worth of notice required before the tenant must vacate the premises.

If the tenant fails to leave after an eviction notice, the landlord has every right to file an eviction lawsuit in justice of the peace court. Typically, hearings in Texas are scheduled 14 to 21 days after the eviction lawsuit is filed.

When Rental Rights Are Violated

Texan tenants have plenty of options and helping hands when their rental rights are violated. While you don't have the right to withhold rent or payments if you believe your renter's rights are being violated, numerous advocacy organizations across the state can help navigate the web of renting laws. These include Texas Tenant Advisor, the Austin Tenants' Council, and the Dallas-based Texas Tenants' Union, among others. The Civil Rights Division of the Texas Workforce Commission specifically helps tenants who are affected by discriminatory housing practices.

In Texas, the responsibility of enforcing the state's Fair Housing Act falls to the Texas Workforce Commission. You can get in touch with the TWC to file a complaint via email. In your message, be sure to include your name and address, the name and address of the person your complaint is against, the address of the housing in question, a description of the alleged violation and the dates of said violation. Alternatively, fill out a Housing Discrimination Complaint Form online in English or in Spanish.

Local organizations and fair housing enforcement agencies accept discrimination complaints, as well. These organizations include the City of Austin Equal Employment and Fair Housing Office, the City of the Dallas Fair Housing Office, the Fort Worth Human Relations Commission and the Garland Office of Housing and Neighborhood Service. Like the TWC, these organizations accept complaints through various means, including in-person, online, over the telephone, via fax and by mail.

About the Author

As a freelance writer and small business owner with a decade of experience, Dan has contributed legal- and finance-oriented content to diverse sources including Chron, Fortune, Zacks.com, Motley Fool and MSN Money, among others.

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