Familiarizing yourself with landlord-tenant laws and avoiding legal trouble with your tenants is the best way to become successful property managers in Texas. Failure to comply with your legal responsibilities as a landlord will cost you time and money in dealing with lawsuits. Here are a few tips to help you follow the law and avoid disputes with your occupant.
Avoid housing discrimination.
Knowing what you are allowed to do and ask for during a rental application under fair housing laws is crucial to staying out of legal trouble as a property manager. Explicit or implicit discrimination may come into play in how you advertise a rental housing, what questions are asked by the property owner during interviews, and how renters are treated during their occupancy, so make sure to review your tenant screening every now and then.
According to the law, you are legally allowed to reject applicants for the following reasons:
- if the applicant has a bad credit history;
- if the applicant has negative references from their previous landlords;
- if the applicant has a history of violations and late rent payments.
Additionally, you are not allowed to reject prospective tenants based on:
- the race, color, or national origin of the applicant;
- the gender of the applicant;
- the religion of the applicant;
- the familial status of the applicant; and
- the physical or mental disability of the applicant.
A few exemptions to antidiscrimination rules include:
- owner-occupied buildings with four or fewer units; and
- single-family homes, with the owner having no more than three rental houses at a time.
Make sure your written lease or rental agreement complies with the law.
When writing up the lease or rental agreement, landlords should always make sure to include important details such as the duration of the tenancy, the cost of their rent payment, and other rules you and your tenants should follow. However, be wary of including clauses that are unlawful, such as waiver of landlord responsibility to keep premises habitable.
Always include legally required disclosures.
The law requires landlords to disclose specific information to their occupants to ensure that they are aware of their rights and responsibilities as a renter. Some common disclosures include:
- tenant rights to move-in checklists;
- tenant rights if a landlord fails to address maintenance issues;
- arrangements for shared utilities, if any;
- the imposition of nonrefundable fees, if permitted; and
- the identity of the landlord or landlord’s agent or manager.
The only federally required disclosure is that landlords must provide occupants with specific lead-based paint pamphlets and forms.
Make a move-in and move-out checklist.
Make use of a landlord-tenant checklist when a tenant is moving in and moving out of a rental. This will make it easier to send a written itemization once the individual renting leaves since a security deposit leads to one of the most common causes of disputes.
Keep your rental properties habitable.
The rented property should be kept habitable, as required by the “implied warranty of habitability” under Texas law. Make sure to regularly conduct property maintenance, especially as this can help prevent issues such as injuries to tenants due to defective conditions in the rental home.
Comply with state rental law.
Several rent-related issues are regulated by state law, so make sure to check the procedures to follow in raising the rent and evicting tenants who have not paid rent. For example, a notice to vacate is typically given by landlords at least three days before filing suit. Get in touch with a Texas eviction lawyer to ensure you are taking all the necessary steps for the eviction process.
Practice good documentation.
Documenting how you fulfilled your landlord responsibilities, such as handling repairs to the rental property, is a good way to avoid having issues with tenants, and can help counter false retaliation claims. Remember that retaliatory eviction and rent increases are considered illegal under Texas law if the complaint is within their legal rights as a tenant.
Strictly follow the legal procedures for evictions.
To evict a tenant who has failed to pay rent or has violated the tenancy agreement, the landlord should terminate the tenancy prior to the eviction. For example, a notice to vacate must be sent by the landlord three days prior to starting eviction procedures. The notice may be personally delivered by the residential landlord to the tenant or the premises, or have it sent through certified mail.
Are you in a bind on how to deal with problematic tenants?
The best to deal with disputes is to get legal assistance from a lawyer who is familiar with the nuances and demands of the state law for eviction. If you are thinking of evicting a tenant, call Girling Law for help.