As mentioned in my previous article, Gone to Texas, Understanding Tenants’ Rights, Volume I: Settling in the Lone Star State, Texas is once again recognized as a one of the best states to live or start a business. Specifically, Business Insider recognizes a few Texas cities among The Best Places to Live in America 2018, which includes Houston (26), Dallas-Forth Worth (18), San Antonio (14), and Austin (1). With the added praise and recognition, more people may be looking to call the Lone Star State home in 2018. These new settlers, renters and purchasers alike, should know their rights when purchasing and maintaining their property.
Landlord’s Duty to Maintain and Repair
In Texas, landlords are required by law to make diligent efforts to maintain the property in a habitable condition, and repair problems after receiving notice the property is in a condition that would materially affect the physical health or safety of an ordinary tenant. Generally, these conditions include keeping the property free of sewage backups; free of pests, including cockroaches and rats; supplying the property with hot water; while keeping the property free of faulty wiring and leaky roofs. Furthermore, if the property is in a condition that violates the city’s building, health, or fire code, there is a likelihood the property is also a risk a health or safety. Generally, Texas law does not include aesthetic, cosmetic, or items non-essential to health or safety of the property. Often, these excluded items include walls that need painting, unsatisfactory flooring, a broken dishwasher, or lawn maintenance, which has no impact on the property’s health or safety condition.
Exceptions to the Landlord’s Duty to Maintain and Repair
Generally, landlords are not required by Texas law to repair the property when the condition results from activity or use by a tenant or their guest, unless the condition arose from the normal use of the premises. Furthermore, except for situations when such measures are required, landlords are not obligated to provide the property with security guards, better lighting, or gate or fencing systems. Additionally, landlords and tenants are free to negotiate the terms of the lease, which could mitigate the landlord’s duty to repair. For these scenarios, the lease agreement may designate the tenant as the party responsible to repair broken windows, screens, doors, etc., so long as the terms of these provisions are clear and specific. Often, these provisions are made conspicuous through the use of underlined or bolded font to indicate their significance to the reader.
Recourse for Failure to Maintain and Repair
Texas landlords are required to provide tenants with a property that is free from health and safety risks. Aside from the exceptions provided above, landlords shall not modify their duties to repair a condition that materially affects a tenant’s physical health or safety. Should a landlord intentionally attempt to modify the duties owed, whether orally or through the lease, the tenant may pursue a claim against the landlord. Texas allows tenants to seek actual damages, one month’s rent plus $2,000, and reasonable attorney’s fees. In these cases, Texas law presumes the landlord acted without knowledge. So, if the landlord is violating the law, tenants should provide notice of the violation in writing and maintain a copy of this notification for their personal records. Should the landlord to refuse to act, the case against the landlord may be stronger by having a copy of the notice available.
As Texas’ cities continue to be recognized among the best in the nation, more businesses and people are likely to relocate to call the Lone Star State home. These new settlers should learn their rights as purchasers and tenants, to ensure their transition to their new home is easy and enjoyable.
The information contained in this post is for general information and educational purposes only. The application and impact of laws can vary widely based on the specific facts involved. Given the changing nature of laws, rules and regulations, and the inherent hazards of electronic communication, there may be delays, omissions or inaccuracies in information contained in this publication. Accordingly, the information on this post is provided with the understanding that the author and publishers are not herein engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax, or other professional advice and services. As such, it should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional accounting, tax, legal or other competent advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional.