Landlord-Tenant issues are fairly common. Read up on some common issues and legalities in KVUE's series on problematic apartments.
Austin's Landlord-Tenant Specialist.
During my time at Lone Star Legal Aid, I represented tenants in eviction cases and in suits against landlords. As a result, I became very familiar with the laws governing landlord-tenant relationships and the rights of both tenants and landlords. In private practice, I represent both tenants and landlords in a variety of disputes.
- Evictions: Renters usually get evicted because they have failed to pay rent or failed to pay rent on time. However, even what seems to be a straight-forward eviction case can become complicated with several legal issues. For evictions based on lease violations other than unpaid rent, there are additional concerns with witness testimony and evidence that require careful consideration. I have represented tenants and landlords in eviction cases.
- Property Damage and Repair: The second most common dispute between landlords and tenants is property damage. Common complaints among tenants are that the property was in bad condition when they moved in or that the landlord failed to repair certain conditions (e.g. broken air conditioning, water leak). Landlords are concerned with when exactly they are obligated to make repairs and being responsible for costly repairs caused by the tenant's neglect or misuse of the property. Disputes over property damage and defects can involve a mix of the Texas Property Code, contract law, and tort law, and should be handled by an attorney with experience in these areas.
- Security Deposits: The Texas Property Code prohibits a landlord from refusing to return a security deposit in bad faith and allows tenants to recover up to three times the amount wrongfully withheld plus attorney's fees and costs. I have helped several people recover their security deposits from landlords without major inconvenience. As a tenant, it can be worth a little time to fight for your security deposit. I also advise and represent landlords and property management companies concerning security deposit issues.
- Lock-Outs: Landlords must follow specific notice procedures before they can lock a tenant out of a residence for nonpayment of rent. Among other things, landlords must provide the tenant with notice of how to obtain a key to the residence. Failure to comply with the specific notice provisions can make the landlord strictly liable for statutory damages and attorney's fees.
- Taking Tenant's Personal Property: Landlords usually have a contractual lien on a tenant's personal property left in the residence to satisfy unpaid rent. However, like other landlord rights, certain procedures must be followed before exercising this remedy to recoup unpaid rent. First, the landlord must provide notice of the intent to take and sell or store the property. Second, the landlord may not take certain home furnishings listed in the Texas Property Code. Finally, landlords must also leave an itemized list of the property that was taken and explain how the tenant can redeem the property. Failure to follow these procedures again can make the landlord liable for the value of the property taken, attorney's fees, and court costs.
- Electricity Cut-Offs: Before January 1, 2010, landlords had the ability to shut off a tenant's electricity and other utilities if he or she failed to pay rent, as long as certain notice procedures were followed. This is no longer the case. Now, landlords are prohibited from interrupting utilities unless it is necessary for bona fide repairs, construction, or an emergency. There is a special, expedited court procedure for getting utilities restored and landlords can be liable for actual damages, statutory damages, and attorney's fees for cutting off utilities in violation of the new law.
- Other Landlord-Tenant Issues:
- Late fees: Texas law requires late fees be a “reasonable estimate of uncertain damages to the landlord that are incapable of precise calculation and result from late payment of rent." Late fees that are penalizing and particularly high in light of uncertain losses may give rise to a claim against the landlord for money damages, even if the fees are authorized in the lease.
- Application Fees and Deposits: Almost all landlords require prospective tenants pay an application fee and deposit before considering them for a lease. If the deal falls through, the tenant may be entitled to have part of the money reimbursed.
- Security Devices: Generally, the landlord is responsible to install and maintain certain locks and latches for doors and windows. The landlord's duties vary depending on the type of security device and whether the tenant requests replacement or installation in writing.