Texas Eviction Laws: A Guide for Landlords and Tenants

Gain insight into Texas eviction laws for tenants and landlords in this comprehensive guide. Navigate the legal landscape around evictions with confidence.

By
Gemma Smith
|
Last Updated
July 13, 2023
Texas Eviction Laws: A Guide for Landlords and Tenants

Eviction is a complex and often stressful process for all parties involved. In the state of Texas, as in other states, eviction laws are designed to mediate disputes between landlords and tenants, ensuring fairness and transparency. 

Understanding eviction laws in Texas is pivotal for both landlords and tenants. Knowing these laws helps rental property owners protect their investments, ensuring they have legal recourse when rental agreements are not upheld. It also enables them to handle the eviction process correctly, thus avoiding potential lawsuits for wrongful eviction.

For individuals facing potential eviction, understanding these laws is just as crucial. Texas eviction laws provide certain tenant protections, establishing rights even when eviction becomes inevitable. Understanding these laws can ensure fair treatment, knowledge of your rights as a renter, and the ability to seek the right help if needed.

By unpacking these laws, we aim to equip landlords and tenants with the knowledge to navigate situations involving tenant notice and eviction with confidence and understanding. Whether you're a tenant wanting to understand your rights or a landlord needing guidance handling a problematic situation, this guide is for you.

Evictions overview: Basic definitions and terminology

To fully understand the nuances of Texas eviction laws, we must first familiarize ourselves with some key terminologies:

  • Eviction: An eviction is a legal process initiated by a landlord to remove a tenant from a rented property. It typically occurs due to a breach of the lease agreement, such as non-payment of rent or violating the lease terms. In Texas, eviction can also be referred to as "forcible entry and detainer."
  • Lease/rental agreement: A lease or rental agreement is a legally binding contract between the landlord (the property owner) and the tenant (the renter). It outlines the terms and conditions of the rental, including the duration of the lease, the amount of rent and when it's due, and the obligations and responsibilities of both parties. The lease agreement is key in eviction proceedings as it establishes the grounds for evicting a tenant.
  • Notice to vacate: This is the written notice a landlord must give to a tenant before an eviction process can start. In Texas, unless otherwise specified in the lease, a landlord must give the tenant at least three days' notice to vacate the premises before filing an eviction lawsuit.
  • Writ of possession: A landlord can obtain a writ of possession if a tenant does not voluntarily leave the premises after an eviction judgment. This court order authorizes the local sheriff or constable to forcibly remove the tenant and their belongings from the property.
  • Retaliatory eviction: This refers to a situation where a landlord tries to evict a tenant as a form of punishment for taking specific actions that are within their rights, such as reporting housing code violations or joining a tenants’ union. Such evictions are illegal under Texas law.

By understanding these terms, rental property owners and tenants alike can better navigate the complexities of the eviction process in Texas.

Understanding Texas eviction laws

The Texas Property Code primarily guides Texas eviction laws. This code stipulates the various procedures and regulations landlords must follow to legally evict tenants. The regulation aims to ensure fairness in the eviction process, protect the rights of landlords and tenants, and outline the legal recourse for disagreements or disputes.

The Texas Property Code

The Texas Property Code is the governing body of law for evictions in Texas, and establishes the rules and procedures landlords must adhere to when evicting a tenant. Chapter 24 of the Texas Property Code deals specifically with eviction cases, also known as "forcible entry and detainer" suits.

The code requires landlords to provide tenants with written notice before an eviction can proceed. The notice period usually stands at three days but can be modified in the lease agreement. If the tenant fails to remedy the situation or vacate the premises within the stipulated period, the rental property owner can file an eviction lawsuit in the appropriate justice court.

An essential part of the Texas Property Code, Section 92.331, prohibits landlords from retaliating against tenants for asserting their rights, such as complaining about housing code violations, requesting repairs, or participating in a tenant organization.

Scenarios under which a landlord can legally evict a tenant

Let's examine the scenarios in which a landlord has the legal right to initiate the eviction process and terminate a tenancy:

  1. Non-payment of rent: The most common reason for eviction is non-payment of rent. If tenants fail to pay their rent on time, the landlord can initiate eviction.
  2. Violation of lease terms: If a tenant violates any of the terms outlined in the lease or rental agreement, it can be grounds for eviction. This could include having unauthorized pets, causing significant damage to the property, or engaging in illegal activities on the premises.
  3. Expiration of lease: If the lease agreement has expired and the tenant refuses to vacate the property, the landlord has the right to proceed with an eviction. In this case, the tenant, also known as a "holdover tenant," can be evicted for overstaying without renewing their lease.
  4. Health and safety violations: If the tenant's actions threaten the property's or other residents' health and safety, the landlord can issue an eviction notice. Examples might include creating fire hazards or infestation issues.
  5. Unauthorized occupants: A tenant who allows others to live in the rental unit without the landlord's consent can also be grounds for eviction.
  6. Unlawful use of property: If the tenant uses the property for unlawful purposes, such as dealing drugs or engaging in other illegal activities, the landlord has the right to evict the tenant.

It's important to note that landlords cannot evict tenants for discrimination or retaliation. This means tenants cannot be evicted for race, religion, gender, disability, familial status, or because the tenant reported a violation or requested necessary repairs. Evictions for these reasons would be illegal under both federal law and the Texas Property Code.

The eviction process in Texas

Here's a step-by-step guide through the Texas eviction process. It's important to note that this is a general guideline, and the exact process can vary based on specific circumstances and the lease agreement details.

1. Post a notice to vacate

Before a rental property owner can initiate the eviction process, they must provide the tenant with a Notice to Vacate. This written notice serves as a warning to the tenant, informing them of the landlord's intent to evict if the tenant doesn't rectify the issue or vacate the premises within the given time frame. Typically, a minimum of three days notice is required unless the lease agreement specifies a different period. The Notice to Vacate must be delivered to the tenant or by mail in person. It must include a clear statement declaring the landlord's intent to evict the tenant, the reason for eviction, and the period the tenant has to remedy the situation or leave the property.

2. File an eviction suit

If the tenant does not comply with the Notice to Vacate within the specified timeframe, the landlord can proceed with the eviction process by filing a Forcible Entry and Detainer lawsuit in the Justice of the Peace court in the precinct where the property is located. The landlord must provide details about the lease agreement, the issued Notice to Vacate, and reasons for seeking the eviction.

3. Attend court proceedings

A hearing date is set after the eviction lawsuit is filed, which cannot be earlier than 10 days from the filing date. The property owner and tenant can present their cases at the eviction hearing. This may include providing evidence such as lease agreements, rent payment records, photographs, tenant files, or other relevant documents. Witnesses may also be called to testify.

4. Receive a judgment

After considering the evidence and arguments from both sides, the judge will make a ruling. If the final judgment is in the landlord's favor, the tenant will be ordered to vacate the property. The tenant has a five-day period to appeal the judgment.

5. Issue a writ of possession

If the tenant still refuses to vacate the property after the judgment, the landlord can request the court to issue a Writ of Possession. This court order authorizes the local constable to forcibly remove the tenant and their possessions from the property. The constable is required to post a 24-hour notice at the property before executing the Writ of Possession.

It's important to remember that only a sheriff or other law enforcement official can forcibly remove a tenant from a property. A landlord is not allowed to carry out a forcible removal personally, shut off utilities, or change the locks as a means of eviction, as such actions are illegal under Texas law.

Tenants' rights in the eviction process

Tenants in Texas have several protections under the law during the eviction process, and there are circumstances under which they can legally challenge an eviction:

  • Right to notice: Before formal eviction proceedings can begin, a landlord must provide the tenant with a Notice to Vacate. This notice must clearly articulate why the landlord seeks to evict the tenant and how much time the tenant has to address the issue or vacate the premises.
  • Right to court hearing: If a tenant chooses not to vacate the premises after receiving the Notice to Vacate, the landlord must file an eviction lawsuit to move forward. The tenant has the right to attend this hearing, present evidence, call witnesses, and make arguments in their defense.
  • Right to appeal: If a tenant disagrees with the judge's ruling in the eviction lawsuit, they can appeal the decision. An appeal must be filed within five days of the judgment.
  • Right against self-help evictions: Texas law prohibits landlords from resorting to "self-help" evictions. Without a court order, a landlord cannot forcibly remove a tenant from the property, change the locks, or shut off utilities. If a landlord attempts a "self-help" eviction, the tenant may have grounds to sue for damages.
  • Right against retaliatory evictions: Retaliatory evictions are illegal under Texas law. A landlord cannot evict a tenant in response to the tenant exercising a legal right, such as reporting a building or housing code violation to a government agency or joining a tenants' union. If a tenant is evicted for such reasons, they may have grounds to file a lawsuit for retaliation. In such cases, the tenant could potentially recover one month's rent plus $500, actual damages, court costs, and reasonable attorney's fees.
  • Protection for tenants without a written lease: Even if a tenant doesn't have a written lease, they may still be protected under Texas eviction laws. If a landlord verbally agrees to let someone stay in a property, that agreement might constitute a lease, and the tenant may have rights and protections under the law.

Please note that while these rights provide protections for tenants, tenants also have responsibilities, including the obligation to pay rent on time and abide by the terms of their lease. Failure to meet these responsibilities can result in eviction. A tenant should seek legal advice to understand their rights and potential defenses if facing eviction fully.

Advice for Texas rental property owners

Being a rental property owner comes with many responsibilities and obligations, particularly within the context of eviction laws in Texas. It's essential to conduct yourself in a manner that is both legally sound and respectful of tenant rights. Below you will find invaluable advice for property managers and landlords, discussing best practices to avoid legal disputes, the importance of a comprehensive lease agreement, and the crucial role of detailed documentation during eviction.

  • Clear communication: Keep lines of communication open with your tenants. Many disputes can be avoided or resolved with honest and open dialogue. Ensure that both parties clearly understand all terms of the lease.
  • Regular property maintenance: Make sure the rental property is in good condition and respond to repair requests in a timely manner. This will help prevent violations of warranty of habitability or repair laws, which could lead to legal disputes.
  • Respect tenant rights: Understand and respect the rights of your tenants. For example, do not enter the tenant's dwelling without proper notice unless it's an emergency, and never resort to self-help eviction methods.
  • Abide by anti-discrimination laws: Federal and state laws prohibit housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. Make sure your policies and practices comply with these laws.
  • Draft comprehensive lease agreement: A well-written lease agreement is essential in establishing an effective landlord-tenant relationship. This agreement should clearly define all terms and conditions of the tenancy, including rent amount, due date, lease length, repair, maintenance responsibilities, and rules for using the property. A clear and comprehensive lease agreement helps avoid misunderstandings and disputes and provides a solid legal foundation if issues arise.
  • Document everything in the eviction process: Documentation is crucial in the eviction process. It serves as evidence in case of disputes or lawsuits and can help protect you from potential legal issues. Keep copies of all notices and correspondence with the tenant across communication channels, as well as receipts of any payments, records of any lease violations, and notes of any conversations related to the tenancy or eviction process. Documentation is especially important when providing the Notice to Vacate. This notice should be written and include specific information required by Texas law. It's also important to keep proof of how and when this notice was served to the tenant.

Remember, when it comes to eviction proceedings, following the law is the best way to protect your interests and your obligation as a rental property owner. If you need clarification on any aspect of the eviction process, it's a good idea to consult with an attorney to ensure you're following all relevant laws and regulations.

Advice for Texas tenants

Living as a tenant comes with responsibilities and rights, especially when dealing with potential eviction situations. In the context of Texas eviction laws, renters need to be well-informed and proactive. Below, we explore important steps to take if you or other tenants are facing potential eviction, the necessity of understanding your lease agreement, and where to seek legal advice in such challenging circumstances.

  • Communication: If you're struggling to make rent or have violated the lease somehow, your first step should be communicating with your landlord. They may be willing to work out a payment plan or other arrangement.
  • Review your lease: Understand the terms of your lease agreement and ensure that the claimed violation by the landlord is legitimate under those terms.
  • Respond to eviction notice: Respond accordingly if you receive a Notice to Vacate. This can include remedying the situation (such as paying owed rent), challenging the eviction if you believe it to be unjust, or preparing to move out to avoid an eviction lawsuit.
  • Document everything: Record all communications with your landlord and take photos or videos if necessary. This evidence could be helpful if you end up in court.
  • Importance of understanding lease agreements: Your lease agreement is the guiding document for your tenancy, providing important information about your rights and responsibilities. It's crucial to understand all the terms of your lease, including the rent payment schedule, property rules, maintenance obligations, and procedures for ending the lease. Lease agreements also dictate conditions under which a landlord may pursue eviction, so familiarize yourself with these conditions to avoid violations.
  • Where to seek legal advice or help: If you're facing eviction and need legal advice, there are resources available. Local legal aid organizations may provide free or low-cost legal advice and representation to tenants facing eviction. You can also consult with a private attorney to help you understand your rights, represent you in court, and negotiate with your landlord. Be sure to bring all your documentation to your attorney, including your lease agreement and any correspondence with your landlord. Websites like TexasLawHelp.org and Texas Tenant Advisor can also provide helpful information about your rights and the eviction process.

Facing an eviction can be stressful, but understanding your rights and responsibilities can help you navigate this process and potentially prevent it altogether. Always seek legal advice if you need clarification on your situation or options.

Key takeaways on Texas eviction laws

Understanding eviction laws in Texas is critical for both rental property owners and tenants. These laws regulate the rental agreement, lay out the terms under which an eviction can occur, provide a structured process to follow when an eviction is necessary and outline protections available to tenants facing eviction.

For landlords, you can follow the stipulated eviction process to maintain a good relationship with tenants and avoid potential legal disputes. Key practices such as providing clear and comprehensive lease agreements, sending proper notices, and documenting all steps and communications can ensure a smooth and lawful eviction if necessary.

Understanding tenant rights and the terms of their lease agreement can help tenants protect themselves from unfair practices. In the face of a potential eviction, proactive steps such as communicating with the landlord, responding properly to eviction notices, and seeking legal advice and help can make a significant difference.

Regardless of the situation, retaliation is illegal, and protections exist to prevent retaliatory actions. Both landlords and tenants should make efforts to communicate effectively and try to resolve disputes amicably before resorting to eviction.

Additional Texas eviction resources

For more detailed information about eviction laws in Texas, refer to the Texas Property Code - Chapter 24, which covers forcible entry and detainer, and Chapter 92, which deals with residential tenancies.

Legal aid resources available in Texas include Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Lone Star Legal Aid, and Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas. These organizations can provide free or low-cost assistance to individuals facing housing issues, including evictions.

Other resources, like TexasLawHelp.org, offer a wealth of information for tenants, including guides on responding to an eviction lawsuit and requesting repairs. They also provide resources for landlords to understand their rights and responsibilities.

Finally, the Texas State Law Library is useful for researching Texas laws and regulations, including those related to landlord-tenant disputes and evictions. This library offers numerous resources to help you understand and navigate eviction proceedings.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials are for general informational purposes only. This content may not constitute the most up-to-date legal information. No reader, user, or browser of this article should act or refrain from acting on the basis of information herein without first seeking the advice of a legal professional.

Gemma Smith

With 7 years in property management, Gemma serves as a key content strategist at Azibo.com. While excelling in writing, editing, and SEO, she also enhances Azibo's social media presence. Passionately, Gemma educates others to make informed real estate investment decisions in the ever-changing market.

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