As a tenant in Texas, you have certain rights that the landlord must uphold. You also have certain obligations for which you are responsible. This is true whether the property you rent or lease is residential or commercial. Much of it is all about ensuring your rental is safe and that it is a good place for your home or business. Unfortunately, tenants and landlords often do not know nor understand what all their rights and responsibilities are. Misunderstandings can lead to problems that, if not addressed immediately, can get messy and lead to legal issues.
Tenant Rights in Texas
Many renters or lessees wonder what rights they have to the property they are renting or leasing. While it varies from state to state, the number one place to look for what rights a tenant has is the rental or leasing agreement itself. Rights in the agreement can materialize in different ways.
For residential lessees, your agreement may identify any right to the following:
- Pets – do you have a right to have a pet, and if so, are there limits to the kind, type, or breed?
- Co-tenants, roommates, etc. – how many people can live in the leased property (whether as co-renters or dependents)?
- Overnight guests – can you have a visitor stay the night?
- Amenities – do you have the right to any amenities on the property, and if so, to what extent?
For commercial lessees, your agreement may identify any right to the following:
- Alterations – many businesses alter a commercial space to accommodate their business's needs
- Products, materials, etc. – many businesses may require certain products, materials, or other tangible items on the property for their business and the agreement may outline to what extent and availability that right is
- General upkeep – the property owner must typically maintain the premises, including any landscaping and common areas
Aside from what can be found in a lease, there are other tenant rights – particularly related to residential property – that are mandated by the federal government (for residential property particularly) and are recognized by most states with some states providing better protection than other states. If a jurisdiction does not afford the following rights to commercial properties, the rights can be negotiated within the lease agreement.
Right to Information
You have the right to know certain information about the property or premises where you lease a home or run a business. For example, if criminal activity has occurred on the property (especially involving violence or drugs), you have the right to know. If the rental property is under foreclosure, you have the right to know. If there is a pest infestation, like bed bugs or rats, you have the right to know. If the building was built before 1978, you have the right to know whether lead-based paint was used. If asbestos is present in or on the property, you have the right to know.
Right to Privacy
A tenant is entitled to their privacy in the home or commercial space that they are renting. This right prevents landlords from
- Entering your unit without notice
- Allowing someone else (like a repair person) to enter your unit without notice and/or permission
- Sharing personal information or business data
To note, however, landlords can enter the property for valid reasons like to conduct inspections or to repair something, but they must provide reasonable notice – they cannot come unannounced.
Right to Non-Discriminatory Practices
Tenants, as well as potential tenants, have the right to be treated in a way that is non-discriminatory. In other words, they must be treated fairly and cannot be denied services based on these characteristics:
- National Origin
- Familial Status
Many states go further than characteristics and include protection from discrimination based on, for example, status as a member of LGBTQ+ community or the military.
Right to Security Deposit
Most landlords require a tenant to pay a security deposit as part of the agreement. This money is to be used to cover damages and other costs when the tenant moves out of the property. The landlord is limited in the amount they are able to collect, how they may use the security deposit, and how long they have to return it at the end of the agreement. Tenants should be aware of their state laws regarding security deposits.
Right to Safe Conditions
A renter or lessee is entitled to a home or business space that is fit and safe for living or working. Landlords are under an obligation to ensure that the property is habitable for the entire time it is rented. If repairs are needed, the landlord must make the repairs. Further, landlords must also comply with all applicable housing or zoning codes and other requirements, which includes making sure:
- Walls, ceilings, roofs, stairs, floors, and foundations are all structurally sound and safe;
- Smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers are functioning and properly located in each unit or common area;
- All utility systems (electrical, heating, plumbing, ventilation, drainage) are properly operating and maintained;
- Appliances and lighting are properly installed and working;
- No pest infestations exist or, are immediately addressed;
- All entries (doors and windows) can be secured or locked properly.
Leases may disclose the right to habitability, but even if not, most states recognize it as an implied warranty of habitability for residential renters. Plus, landlords cannot negotiate this right by offering other benefits, like reduced rent rates, in place of habitability.
Tenant Responsibilities in Texas
Lessees of both residential and commercial property have certain responsibilities to that property. As the exact responsibilities vary from state to state, listed below are some of the general responsibilities renters have in most jurisdictions.
Payment of Rent
The most obvious responsibility of a renter is to pay the rent in full on or before the date it is due. The amount of rent and its due date should be spelled out in the rental agreement. Renters should read the terms of the agreement to make certain they understand it in full.
Avoid Illegal Activities on Premises
Renters cannot use the property they are renting for illegal purposes, such as manufacturing or distributing drugs. If a landlord finds out their renter is using the property for an illegal purpose, in most states, they have the ability to move forward with an eviction.
Be Truthful Regarding Intended Purpose
Renters should not lie to their landlord regarding their intended use of the rental property. If they do, their landlord may be able to use this misrepresentation as a reason to have them evicted.
Not To Interfere With Neighbors
Renters of property should not make themselves a nuisance to their neighbors. Since what constitutes a nuisance is a hotly contested topic, some landlords specify in the rental agreement what type of conduct is, or is not, allowed.
Tenant Remedies for Violated Rights in Texas
Tenants often want to know what recourse they have when their rights have been violated. Each state handles this issue differently, but there are some remedies that are available in most states. Specifics on these rights vary by jurisdiction.
Termination of Lease
In some situations, tenants are within their rights to terminate a lease. Often, for termination of a lease to be allowed, the property must be unfit to be lived in. Other reasons include harassment by the landlord and military orders.
Tenants should give written notice to their landlord before breaking the lease. If the problem can be remedied, the tenant should give the landlord reasonable time to repair the issue before terminating the lease.
Abatement of Rent
A tenant may be able to stop rent payments in some situations where their rights have been violated. Again, the tenant needs to notify the landlord in writing of the problem that is causing them to stop the rent payments. There are often other rules that the tenant must abide by when abating rent.
This remedy is often not available to tenants of commercial properties.
Sue for Damages
Tenants are also able to sue for damages when their rights have been violated. It is common for tenants to use this remedy when they are facing a wrongful eviction or have a landlord that has failed to maintain the premises by neglecting necessary repairs.
Special monetary damages may be available in cases of discrimination.
When Does a Tenant in Texas Need a Tenant-Landlord Attorney?
Many situations exist where a tenant may need the advice or representation of a tenant-landlord attorney in San Antonio. Reasons vary according to whether you are a residential or commercial tenant, but that said, some common reasons to obtain the services of a tenant-landlord attorney include:
- When you need help reviewing a lease, drafting a lease, negotiating a lease
- When you have experienced discrimination
- When your property has been damaged either intentionally or through the negligence or recklessness of the property owner or property management company
- When you have been served an eviction notice (even before receipt of the notice if you are aware that the landlord intends to evict you)
- When you suffered an injury or illness due to a hazard at or on the property (e.g., uneven sidewalks where you tripped and suffered a concussion or exposure to smoke because smoke detectors were not in working condition
- When the landlord fails to address concerns or grievances upon which you gave notice
- When the landlord has failed to provide a habitable space
- When the landlord, property owner, or property management has otherwise violated your rights either through negligence, recklessness, or an intentional act
- When the landlord, property owner, or property manager fails to timely and properly return a security deposit
- When your landlord accuses you of something and is, thus, suing you