Whenever you rent a home or apartment in Texas, you will want a residential lease agreement that is inclusive of state law requirements for your tenant to review and sign. Although oral leases are valid, you take the risk of your tenant misconstruing certain terms that could lead to litigation.
A properly drafted lease agreement provide protections for you as well as your tenant by enumerating the terms under which security deposits and rent are to be paid as well as other duties and obligations of both parties.
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All leases will include certain general terms or provisions:
- Names of the renters and landlord
- Amount of security deposit
- Rent to be made by a certain date each month
- Manner in which rent is to be paid and to whom
- Description and address of the property
- Length of the lease
- If pets are allowed and if so, which ones and their size
- Whether the property may be subleased
There are laws governing the content of leases and prohibitions on a property owner’s decision on whom to rent. Anti-discrimination laws forbid property owners for refusing to rent to someone on the basis of sex, religion, color, sex, national origin or familial status. For other matters, Texas landlords have considerable discretion.
Security Deposits in Texas
A security deposit is to ensure that whatever damage is done to the unit or rental property is paid for out of these funds. The damage cannot be due to normal wear and tear but from the negligence of the tenant. Wear and tear is defined as deterioration from the intended use of the dwelling including breakage or malfunction from age or deterioration so long as it was not from the carelessness, accident or abuse of the premises by the tenant or any guest of the tenant.
As a Texas residential landlord, you are free to charge whatever the market will bear or whatever you wish. There is no Texas state law limiting it like other states and the interest on the deposit can be at the rate offered by whichever account in which it is deposited in. In fact, there is no requirement that a security deposit be in any specific account. A landlord’s discretion also applies to deposits for pets or any other condition that the landlord may require that is in addition to the general security deposit.
Once the tenant moves out, you must return the entire security deposit, including any interest earned on it, within 30 days after the property is vacated. If you find damage in the unit that is not attributable to wear and tear, you are required to submit to your former tenant a written description of the damage and the charges to be incurred.
Rent and Fees
A Texas landlord can increase the rent at any time. You should include a late fee provision in the agreement but there is no limit on what you may charge nor is there a limit on what you may charge if a rent check is returned for insufficient funds.
Obligations of the Landlord
Landlords have an obligation to provide a dwelling that is habitable, which includes basic amenities like water, heating, electricity and plumbing. Should something malfunction and the tenant notifies the landlord but for some reason, the landlord ignores or refuses to fix the problem, the tenant is probably allowed to withhold rent, although there is no governing statute. However, the law does obligate the landlord to provide these basic utilities and to remedy any condition materially affecting the health or safety of the tenant. A court can order a landlord to repair any such hazardous condition.
Landlords should know that there is no self-eviction law whereby a landlord can force a tenant to vacate, because of nonpayment of rent or any other material violation of the lease, by shutting off utilities or locking out the tenant absent a court order or order of eviction.
Regarding termination, the landlord must give one-month notice for either a month-to-month lease or for a yearly one. The tenant and landlord can negotiate for a longer period for a month-to-month.
If the tenant has not paid rent, the landlord may issue a 3-Day Notice to Vacate to the tenant; after this time, the landlord can file for eviction. There is no prior notice obligation to the tenant if the landlord wishes to terminate the lease for any other violation of the lease so that the landlord may file for eviction at any time he/she feels a provision or lease term was violated that gives rise to termination.
A landlord does have the right to immediately terminate a lease if the tenant violates any part of Chapter 43 of the Texas Penal Code relating to public decency. This applies to any act of prostitution or conduct pertaining to child pornography or obscenity.
As stated above, the tenant can elect to terminate the lease without further obligation if a condition exists that is a danger to the health or safety of an ordinary tenant and the landlord fails to remedy it after having been given notice.
Entry of Premises
A landlord may not enter the leased premises at will but must give prior notice, though no minimum notice period is stated by law. The entry time should at least be reasonable, although the landlord may enter in an emergency situation without notice or if the tenant has been vacant from the premises for an extended period of time.
Texas law requires certain terms or provisions to be included in a residential lease agreement:
- Name and address of property owner
- Name and address of property manager, if any
- Right to remove deceased tenant’s property from abandoned premises 30 days after providing certified notice to a person or address known as stated point-of-contact and no claim to the property has been made
- If subletting is permitted
- Require the tenant to provide proof of domestic violence if a tenant seeks release from a lease
- That a tenant may break a lease if a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or sexual abuse
- That the tenant has a right to repair and deduct rent (no more than one-month’s rent or $500) or vacate the premises with no further obligation if the landlord fails to remedy a condition that directly affects the health or safety of an ordinary tenant.
However, a justice of the peace is authorized to order a property owner to repair or remedy a hazardous condition that affects a tenant’s health and safety so long as the repair does not exceed $10,000. The tenant can go to court without an attorney to obtain the repair order.
Landlords are required to provide smoke detectors and may not waive this in a lease. There are safety devices that must be installed such as keyed dead bolts on exterior doors, sliding door security bars, window latches and door viewers.
Also, each Texas county or municipality may have its own ordinances pertaining to any of the disclosures or rights and obligations of either party. Consult with a landlord/tenant attorney if you have any questions or issues regarding Texas residential lease agreements.