No, you can’t just break your lease: 6 rental laws Texas tenants should know

WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — According to LawDepot, Texas is often considered a landlord-friendly state because it favors landlords over tenants regarding eviction processes, deposits, and rent increases.

Approximately 35 percent of 30 million Texans rent their homes or apartments. According to data from the Census Bureau, Texas has an average gross rent of more than $1,200.

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Tenants make a significant investment in their rental agreements and need assurance that they have protection regarding their tenancy.

Instead of forcing tenants to navigate the complicated legal jargon of the Texas Property Code on their own, Texas A&M University created a guide to help them understand property law in the Lone Star State.

Rental applications

The first part of any rental agreement between a landlord and a tenant begins with the rental application, which can come with various fees and deposits.

According to Subchapter I of the property code, landlords must clearly state their selection criteria and grounds for denying applications.

Reasons to reject an applicant may include things such as criminal history, previous rental history, current income, credit history or failure to complete and accurately fill out the application.

Under the Fair Housing Act of 1968, tenants cannot be denied housing based on their race, color, national origin, religion, familial status, disability or sex, including gender identity and sexual orientation.

The landlords may include their tenant criteria in the application if it is underlined or in bold print.

If landlords fail to inform applicants of their tenant criteria, the applicant is entitled to receive their application fee and any application deposits returned to them by the landlord.

Landlord's duties

After agreeing to a lease, the tenant moves into their unit and settles into their new home. When it comes to renting, what is the landlord responsible for, and what falls to the tenant?

First, the landlord must provide the tenant with a copy of the lease and disclose who owns and manages the rental property. This means they must provide the tenant with the name and address of the property's deed holder or management company. If the property changes owners or management companies, landlords must notify their tenants in writing.

According to Subchapters F and D, landlords are responsible for maintaining smoke alarms and certain security devices in the tenant's home.

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Finally, landlords are obligated to repair or remedy conditions if their tenant is in good standing and the condition affects the tenant's health and safety. The tenant bears the burden of proof regarding repairs.

Certain circumstances allow the tenant to repair or remedy conditions at their own expense and deduct their repair from their rent.

These conditions usually stem from events that materially affect a tenant's health and safety where the landlord has been notified of the need for repair but has failed to do so.

Utility cutoffs and interruptions

According to Subchapter G of the Texas Property Code, landlords who furnish utilities such as gas, water and electricity through the lease are liable to the tenant if the services are shut off due to the landlord's non-payment for them.

Tenants can directly pay the utility company to restore their services and deduct their costs from the rent by providing a utility receipt to the landlord. They can also terminate the lease in writing and receive deductions based on moving costs, storage fees, damages, wages lost or court fees.

If the landlord provides written evidence that any delinquent sums have been paid to the utility companies and the services will not be shut off, the tenant's remedies cease.

Terminating the lease

The General Provisions of Subchapter A of the Texas Property Code offer tenants several situations in which they may need to vacate their lease. Such situations include acts of family violence, sexual crimes or stalking, tenant death or calls to military service.

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In circumstances where tenants must vacate their rental, they may be able to avoid liability for future rent or fees by submitting appropriate documentation to the landlord detailing their circumstances.

Property removal and lockouts

Subchapter A of the Property Code states that landlords may not remove furniture or lock tenants out of the premises except in certain circumstances, such as tenant abandonment.

Tenants who have been locked out must be provided with a 24-hour phone number or onsite location where they can receive a new key to their rental. If the tenant must call a phone number to receive the new key, it must be delivered within two hours.

Retaliation

The Texas Property Code does not allow landlord retaliation against a tenant that, in good faith, attempts to have them repair or remedy a right granted in the lease, gives the landlord notice to provide a repair or complains to the entity responsible for maintaining building codes for a problem they believe is valid and actually occurred.

Landlords cannot retaliate against tenants who attempt to organize or participate in a tenants' union.

Retaliation by a landlord may occur in the form of unlawful eviction, not allowing the tenant to use the premises they are entitled to use, decreased services to the tenant, engaging in bad faith conduct that interferes with the tenant's rights within the lease, increasing rent or terminating the lease.

This article is meant to inform readers of rights they may have under Texas Property law and is not intended as legal advice. Tenants or landlords in need of legal advice should contact an attorney.

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