Calling all landlords and property managers in Texas! A new series of landlord-tenant laws took effect on January 1, 2016. If you own or operate property in the Lone Star State, here’s what you need to know.
Senate Bill 1367, authored by State Senator Royce West (D-Dallas) and co-sponsored in the House by Representatives Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) and Rene Oliveria (D-Brownsville), makes five key changes to “AN ACT relating to certain obligations of and limitations on landlords,” a.k.a. the state’s landlord-tenant law—in an effort to better protect tenants’ rights. Here are the changes that property managers and landlords should know about.
The repair provision has been amended to expand the way notices can be delivered, thereby triggering a landlord’s duty to repair. Previously, tenants were required to send either one request for repair by certified mail or two requests by any other method. When the statute was first written, trackable delivery services such as UPS and FedEx didn’t exist as they do today. Now, any trackable form of delivery by the U.S. Postal Service or private delivery service qualifies for the single notification provision.
Advocates of SB 1367 argued that time is critical for tenants dealing with health and/or safety problems, and that the requirement to send two separate notices created an undue lapse of time for those with urgent repair needs.
Landlords must now refund and notify tenants of damages and charges within 30 days if they are going to make a claim against the tenant’s security deposit, even if there is not a refundable deposit. This provision is to protect tenants from landlords who make claims against a tenant, but the tenant never become aware of such claims until finding a claim on their credit report down the road.
Section 92.006 of the Property Code was amended to add a provision that prohibits a tenant’s right to a jury trail from being waived. One common complaint by tenants’ rights advocates is that some Texas landlords and property managers would entice people into lease agreements by offering them special rental discounts—discounts that were applied by adding an addendum to the lease. But buried in these addenda was often fine print stating that in exchange for the discount, the renter would waive their right to a jury trial if the landlord and resident ever wound up in a lawsuit with one another. Robert Doggett, an attorney with Rio Grande Legal Aide, calls this practice “tricky lawyer tricks” and said it’s “just a total sham where they invent something to try to get around Texas law” to better serve the needs of property owners and managers.
Tenants were granted additional recourse from landlords or landlords’ agents that willfully violate a “landlord’s lien.” In Texas, a landlord’s lien allows landlords to seize some of a tenant’s property without going to court if the tenant is behind on rent. The penalty for landlords that violate the “landlord’s lien” law has been increased from one month’s rent or $500, whichever is greater, to one month’s rent plus $1,000. The increased penalty is consistent with recent changes to the state’s lock-out law and utility cut-off law. Tenants can still sue for actual damages, court costs, and attorney’s fees as well.
Section 92.105 of the Property Code, which deals with “Cessation of Owner’s Interest,” has been amended to require the new owner of a property to deliver tenants with a signed statement that they have acquired the property. The changes also require the former owner deliver notice acknowledging that the new owner has received and is responsible for the tenant’s security deposit, and must specify the exact dollar amount of that deposit.
These changes were driven in large part by the efforts of the Texas Tenants’ Union. Alice Basey, President of the Texas Tenants’ Union Board, recently told the North Dallas Gazette: “While much still needs to be done to improve Texas tenant/landlord law, we are steadily winning protections for tenants in the State Legislature.”
The Texas Tenants’ Union had also been pushing for a provision that would require new owners to honor existing leases, citing a 2014 case where the new owner of the Town Creek Condos in Northeast Dallas gave all the tenants just three days’ notice to vacate the premises the week before Thanksgiving, despite the fact that many tenant’s had existing leases in place. The new property owner later backed down from the last-minute evictions, stating that he was unaware that the property management company had sent out such notices on his behalf. Instead, the new landlord agreed to help relocate all tenants prior to renovating the condo building. Nonetheless, Sandy Rollins, Director of the Texas Tenants’ Union, considers the amendment a success. “These changes will alleviate every day in justices faced by tenants,” she said.
Texas landlords and property managers should spend some time familiarizing themselves with these new regulations in order to protect themselves from future claims by tenants. As is always the case, those who have questions about the amended legislation and how it impacts their businesses should be sure to consult with an attorney.Read more on Legal Considerations