Apartment Occupancy Laws in Texas

Friends at home watching game
••• rilueda/iStock/GettyImages

In Texas, a landlord or property owner renting units must limit the number of people who can live in an apartment. The number of people who can live in an apartment is calculated by the number of bedrooms in the unit and the age of the potential occupants.

Per state law and the federal Fair Housing Act, landlords must not impose discriminatory policies against occupants with children or other protected classes.

Occupancy Limits in Texas

Texas landlords must reasonably limit the number of people living in an apartment. As in any state, Texas occupancy limits are designed protect renters from health and safety concerns as a result of overcrowding. By limiting the number of people in a unit, landlords may lessen the burden on the property’s maintenance, utilities and parking, while keeping tenants out of harm's way.

Some property owners violate renters’ health and safety by placing too many people into a space in order to increase rental income. But occupancy policies are in place to improve living conditions for tenants and protect their rights.

In Texas, landlords can choose stricter occupancy standards for their units than those under state or federal laws. As long as they don’t illegally discriminate against the occupants or violate fair housing laws, landlords can rent to whom they wish.

How Many People Can Live in a Texas Apartment?

Texas defines adults as persons at least 18 years of age, and a bedroom as a room intended for sleeping. This room is not a living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom, utility room, closet or storage area.

According to occupancy limits under Texas law, the maximum number of occupants that a landlord can allow to occupy an apartment is three times the number of bedrooms in the unit. For example, if the landlord owns a one-bedroom apartment, up to three adults can live in the unit.

The landlord may allow additional tenants to occupy an apartment to the extent that a state or federal fair housing law requires them to allow a higher occupancy rate, or when an adult seeks temporary sanctuary from domestic violence. This period cannot be for more than one month.

Violations of State Occupancy Limits

A property owner who owns or leases a unit within 3,000 feet of the property of a landlord who is in violation of the state’s occupancy limit, or a civic association or government entity acting on behalf of a property owner, can sue the landlord.

If the property owner who files a lawsuit wins, they can recover reasonable attorney's fees and court costs from the violating party, as well as $500 for each violation.

Federal Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act is a federal law originally adopted as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 with the sole purpose of granting fair housing rights and protections to homeowners and renters.

It was expanded in 1988 to prohibit discrimination of the protected classes when renting a home, buying a home, applying for a mortgage or seeking housing assistance. This federal law covers all states.

The Fair Housing Act was built on the concept that all people should be given the same opportunities when choosing housing. It is enforced by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO).

Protected Classes Under the Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against protected classes based on:

  • Color.
  • Disability.
  • Familial Status.
  • National Origin.
  • Race.
  • Religion.
  • Sex (may include sexual orientation and gender identity).

This federal law covers most housing in the U.S., including multifamily dwellings and single-family homes, but there are exceptions to this rule. Exemptions for certain landlords and property managers include:

  • Owner-occupied buildings with up to four units.
  • Single-family houses rented by the owner without a real estate agent’s help.
  • Homes run by religious organizations or private clubs with an occupancy limit solely to members.

Generally, discriminatory advertising regarding housing is always illegal.

Additional Protections and Texas Municipalities

Texas, through its own Fair Housing Act, follows the federal Fair Housing Act and does not apply to additional protected classes. However, some municipalities have added protected classes to their ordinances. The city of Austin, for example, has added sexual orientation, gender identity and student status.

Denton’s nondiscrimination ordinance (NDO) has also added sexual orientation, gender identity and considers a veteran’s source of income as a protected class.

What the Fair Housing Act Prohibits When Renting

When renting a unit in Texas, it is illegal for a landlord or property owner to take part in discrimination by:

  • Refusing to rent a unit to an interested party.
  • Refusing to negotiate a unit to an interested party.
  • Making a rental property unavailable to an interested party.
  • Setting different conditions, privileges or terms for renting a unit.
  • Providing an individual with different housing facilities or services.
  • Fraudulently denying that a dwelling is available for inspection, rental or sale.
  • Making, printing or publishing any advertisement, statement or notice with respect to the dwelling that states any discrimination, preference or limitation.
  • Imposing a different rental price on a dwelling.
  • Using different criteria, qualifications, standards or procedures for a particular tenant (Examples: application requirements and fees, income or application standards, credit score qualifications, and rental approval procedures).
  • Causing eviction of a tenant or their guest.
  • Harassing any individual.
  • Failing or delaying maintenance or repairs on a rental property.
  • Limiting facilities, privileges or services.
  • Discouraging the rental of a unit.
  • Assigning a tenant to a building or unit.

Families With Children as Tenants

Familial status is defined as a legally recognized relationship between an adult and a minor under 18 years old. All properties should accommodate minors, with the exception of “housing for older persons.”

A landlord cannot refuse to rent to a family because they have children, nor can they direct a family to a particular unit. Landlords cannot charge more for an apartment due to a tenant’s familial status.

Familial status covers:

  • Families with minors under 18 years old.
  • Pregnant people.
  • Individuals in the process of getting legal custody of a minor, including foster and adoptive parents.
  • People who have written permission of a minor’s parent or legal guardian.

Housing Discrimination Complaints in Texas

To submit a housing discrimination complaint to the Texas Workforce Commission, a tenant must meet certain requirements before filing the complaint:

  • Property they rent must be in Texas.
  • Property owner or landlord must own more than three properties.
  • Discrimination date must have occurred within the past 365 calendar days prior to the date of the complaint’s submission.
  • Tenant must specify the type of housing discrimination faced and identify how they were harmed.

Required Information for Filing a Complaint

The individual making the complaint fills out a Housing Discrimination Inquiry Form through the Texas Workforce Commission with this information:

  • First and last name name, home address and phone number.
  • Name and contact information of individual or organization responsible for discriminating against the tenant. This can be a landlord, property owner, property management company or apartment complex.
  • Identify protective classes the discriminatory action was taken against.
  • Address of the rental unit.
  • Short description of the discriminatory action, such as circumstances under which tenant or prospective tenant believes their rights were violated.
  • Date(s)of the discriminatory action.
  • Name and contact information of possible witnesses of the discriminatory action.

If the individual filing a complaint changes their address or contact information during the Workforce Commission’s investigation, they must immediately notify the agency’s investigator. The filer must cooperate fully during the investigation; failure to do so can result in a complaint dismissal.

How to Submit a Housing Discrimination Complaint in Texas

A tenant who feels they are being discriminated against in housing must submit a complaint to the Texas Workforce Commission within 365 calendar days from the date of the discriminatory act.

They can fax the completed form to 512-463-2643 or mail it to: 101 E 15th St., Guadalupe CRD Austin, Texas 78778-0001. The agency cannot address complaints by phone.

Landlord Responsibilities to Tenants in Texas

Aside from occupancy limit laws and fair housing laws, in Texas, landlords must also adhere to the “implied warranty of habitability.” This means they must maintain habitable units for tenants to live in.

For example, they must respond to a tenant’s repair requests within seven days, or three days if the renter lacks air conditioning, heat or drinking water. If the landlord does not respond, the tenant has the right to make repairs and deduct the cost from their rent.

Texas Warranty of Habitability

Texas laws do not give guidance on specific amenities that a landlord must provide. Instead, the warranty of habitability only requires a landlord to make repairs to existing amenities affecting “the health or safety of an ordinary tenant.” The exceptions to this are smoke detectors and hot water, which must be in working order at all times.

Additionally, a landlord cannot remove doors or windows, hinges, latches or locks unless it is to repair or replace what they've removed, which must be done “promptly.” Landlords must also provide a tenant with locks and latches for all exterior doors and windows.

Landlord’s Mandatory Disclosures to Tenants

A landlord in the Lone Star State must make mandatory disclosures to the tenant regarding certain issues:

  • Lead-based paint:‌ If property owner owns a home prior to 1978, they must provide tenant with information about lead paint concentrations.
  • Authorized agents:‌ Landlord must provide tenant with names and address of all persons involved in managing the unit.
  • Right to repair and deduct: Landlord must give renter documents that clearly express the tenant’s right to repair and deduct if landlord does not meet their requests.
  • Parking rules:‌ Landlord must disclose parking information if the tenant rents in a multi-unit complex with parking rules and restrictions.
  • Late fees:‌ Landlord must disclose late fees in the tenant’s rental agreement.
  • Emergency phone number:‌ Texas requires landlords to give the renter a 24-hour emergency phone number to use to report building emergencies.

Related Articles