They’ve Started Evictions In Texas. What Rights Do Tenants Have?
Frankie Grijalva Golden Gate University School of Law 2L
272447 from Pixabay
Harris County, which includes Houston, has over 700,000 renters.
Dallas County, with over 400,000 renters, ranks next in the state.
Tarrant County, which surrounds Fort Worth County, has over 200,000 renters.
It’s not cheap to rent housing in Texas. Nearly half of Texan renters spend more than 30% of their income on rent.
With the rise of unemployment, many landlords fear this number will rise in the coming months.
If you live in Texas and have not paid your rent, or are worried you will not be able to do so soon, here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions we have received from tenants.
Can my landlord evict me if I don’t pay my rent if I’ve lost my job because of COVID-19?
Not right now.
The CARES Act, passed by Congress on March 27th, placed a 120-day eviction moratorium on all housing that receives government subsidies or federally-backed loans.
Note the key words here: government subsidies or federally backed loans.
According to the National Housing Law Project, over 70% of all US mortgages are federally backed or owned.
The federal moratorium expires July 25. At that point, landlords can legally provide tenants with 30 days notice to vacate a property.
It’s important to note that 30% of property owners don’t have a federally backed mortgage (meaning they outright own the property or have another type of loan).
That means those landlords don’t have to abide by the CARES Act.
So on March 19th, the Texas Supreme Court issued a separate moratorium, halting evictions for any non-payment of rent, due to issues related to the Coronavirus, until April 30th.
Unfortunately, on May 14th, Texas Supreme Court issued an order which allowed eviction hearings to proceed beginning on May 19th for properties not covered by the CARES Act.
This order allows for warnings about eviction to be posted, and writs of possession to be executed, beginning May 26th.
The one good bit of news is this - until July 25th, petitions for evictions must include sworn statements proving the property is not covered under CARES Act.
To find out if you are protected by the CARES Act, please visit the National Apartment Association.
What happens at the end of the 90-day federal moratorium on evictions?
In Harris County:
Since March 19, hundreds, if not thousands, of landlords in Harris County have filed evictions proceedings.
In order to provide relief to the citizens of Houston, the city launched a $15 million rent relief program. This would allow renters to apply for relief if their landlord had signed up to receive funds from the program.
Harris County has decided to follow the Texas Supreme Court’s decision on proceeding with eviction hearings beginning May 19th.
According to the Houston Public Media, “Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Monday said she was ‘deeply disappointed’ in the court’s decision, saying that it would only lead to increased financial hardship for Texas families.’”
In Dallas County:
Dallas County has just announced a local program to help people stay in their homes.
Within the county, the Justice of Peace Courts have ordered for any eviction case trials, and pending writ of possession to not be enforced for at least 60 days from the date of the order given on May 14th.
If you live in the Dallas County and have been evicted or given notice of a pending eviction, a Tenant Hotline and email can direct you to resources.
In Tarrant County:
Fort Worth currently has the highest eviction rate of any big city in Texas.
The rate is two times higher than Houston, and three times higher than Dallas, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
The county has also set aside a $15 million to help residents who are short on rental and mortgage payments.
For more information on rental assistance, click here.
Can I pay partial rent?
It is debatable.
The Texas Apartment Association suggests that you first speak with your landlord.
Providing any kind of documentation that shows you have been impacted by COVID-19 will improve your chances of getting help from your landlord.
Even if you pay part of your rent, remember that the entire amount of rent will still be owed.
To find out if you are capable of being a part of the Texas Apartment Association and their membership benefits of additional resources, click here.
What happens if I break my lease and just leave?
Your lease is a binding contract.
You are responsible for abiding to the terms and agreements in the contract.
Ignoring notices or requests will only make the situation worse.
If there is a possibility to end the lease early, make sure you get it in writing.
Texas courts allow for landlords to charge “reletting fees.” The Texas Apartment Association sets this fee at 85% of a month’s rent that could possibly be owed.
This number fluctuates since Texas law requires landlords to mitigate their damages and find a new tenant, if possible. If one is found quickly, there’s a chance you won’t have to pay much.
If you decide to just leave and abandon your lease agreement, your landlord can proceed to try to collect back rent.
Can my landlord lock me out?
Not until the very last step in the eviction process. If your rental unit is covered by the CARES Act, you absolutely can’t be locked out until 30 days after July 25th.
If you aren’t covered by the CARES Act, your landlord must take the proper steps before you are locked out.
Property owners must provide advanced written notice at least five days if by mail, or three days if delivered by hand or posted on the door.
If you don’t receive notices in this time frame, then Texas law allows for tenants to file with the court for an unlawful lockout.
The Texas Justice Training Center has made template court forms to help you force your landlord to let you back onto your premises.
For Harris County, click here for more information of Writ of Re-Entry.
For Dallas County, click here for a template for a Complaint for Writ of Re-Entry.
For Tarrant County, click here for more information of Writ of Re-Entry.
Does my landlord still have to fix things that are broken even if I haven’t paid rent?
Under Texas law, landlords are required to repair anything that affects the physical health and safety of tenants. For example, they must make repairs for sewage leaks, roof leaks, etc.
Although, a landlord does NOT have to pay for additional/optional repairs if:
- You are behind on rent payments.
- You created the condition that needs repair.
For Harris County, click here for information on repairs.
For Dallas County, click here for information on repairs.
For Tarrant County, click here for information on repair and remedy cases.
How will breaking my lease or eviction affect my credit?
Breaking your lease with a remaining balance may affect your credit score.
Some landlords report lease breaks to credit bureaus.
Landlords can also hire collection agencies to get the remaining balance of your lease.
They can also file a claim in small claims court.
If a judgement is ordered against you, debt collection may wind up on your credit report and damage your score.
Negative marks and entries remain on your report for seven years and affect your ability to rent elsewhere, buy a car or sign up for a credit card.
Can my landlord use my security deposit to cover any rent I didn’t pay?
It depends on your landlord and your lease agreement.
In Texas, landlords can use or store security deposits as they wish.
Normally under Texas law, tenants are not allowed to use the security deposit as unpaid rent without the consent of the property owner.
In light of this pandemic, many landlords are allowing tenants to use their security deposit as rent.
That being said, some landlords are requiring for tenants to restore the security deposit to the original amount over a period of time.
Ultimately, this is an issue you need to discuss with your landlord, and decide upon after carefully reviewing your contract.
If you live in Texas and decide to seek legal advice, Court Buddy is here to connect you with an attorney who can help, click here.
This article is intended to convey general information and does not constitute legal advice.