Leasing a place to live is an event that you, or someone you know, have likely experienced or will experience at some time in the future. There are a number of laws that apply to the relationship formed by you, the tenant, and your landlord. Landlord-tenant law can be complicated and confusing. We want to provide you with some information so that you may better understand your rights as a tenant. As always, should you find yourself in need of our team to help you distinguish your rights, and possibly help you recover in the event that you are harmed, we are here to help!
Everything below is subject to the particular agreement signed by you and your landlord. What follows are general rules. Please let us help you understand your agreement, first, before claiming an action against your landlord.
- It is important that you understand fully the type of lease instrument you sign when you decide to lease a place to live. Read the document carefully before signing. The last thing we want is to have you sign a document that does not provide adequate protection in the event you are harmed by the agreement.
- The agreement you reach with your landlord might allow you to stay in the place that you lease for a particular amount of time. This is called a tenancy for years, even if the tenancy is for less than one year.
- If you agree with the landlord to remain in their place for so long as you both desire, this is called a tenancy at will. Please note that neither you nor your landlord is required to provide advance notice of intent to end the tenancy. If the landlord does attempt eviction, however, that person must provide you with three days’ notice in writing.
- A periodic tenancy is created when you remain in a place successively, like a month-to-month tenancy. To properly end a periodic tenancy, you must provide your landlord with 30 days notice. If you decide to vacate in the middle of the period (i.e. the middle of the month), you rent is prorated accordingly.
- Owed to you by the landlord is a list of duties. When those duties are breached, you are entitled to seek a remedy. Below is a short list of some of those duties and the remedies you are entitled to if the landlord does not comply.
- Landlords in Texas must repair certain conditions that significantly affect the physical health or safety of an ordinary tenant. As the tenant, you are required to notify your landlord of the condition in need of repair. You may do this by delivering notice to the place or person where you normally pay rent. Additionally, your landlord is required to make the repair ONLY if you are not behind on rent at the time you report the condition. For more information, please see the Texas Property Code §§ 92.051–.061.
- If the condition is not repaired, and the landlord is liable, you may terminate the lease, OR, under certain circumstances, repair the condition yourself and deduct the cost of that repair from subsequent rent payments, OR seek a judicial remedy if the condition is not remedied within 7 days of the landlord’s notice saying they intend to repair it.
- The option to deduct the cost of repair from your subsequent rent payments is not absolute. You must comply with certain requirements before exercising this option. Specifically, if your lease terms waive a statutory duty to repair, then you may not exercise this remedy. If that duty was not waived, however, then you may exercise this remedy if you told your landlord that you intend to make the repair yourself. Also the condition must involve the backup of raw sewage, potable water service that has totally ceased and your landlord agreed to furnish potable water, OR the landlord must have received notice that the condition materially affects the health or safety of the tenants.
- Seeking a judicial remedy for failure to repair allows you to obtain an order from the court directing the landlord to make the repair or remedy the condition, an order from the court reducing your rent payment, and a judgment for one month’s rent plus $500, actual damages, and court costs and attorneys’ fees. For more information about this remedy, please see the Texas Property Code §§ 92.056(f) and 92.0563.
- The place where you live must also be equipped with certain security devices such as window latches, door locks, and door viewers (peepholes). These items are made available to you at the landlord’s expense. You do not have to request these items; however, you may not take them with you when you move out.
- Your landlord must also ensure that every bedroom and every level of your residence has a functioning smoke alarm. The alarms must work whenever you move into the residence. Additionally, if your landlord has provided a fire extinguisher, they must also ensure that it works before you move into the residence.
Tenants can be easily taken advantage of in these situations. If you feel that something is not right about your current landlord-tenant arrangement, please give us a call and let us help you sort through the questions.
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