Helpful Info for Renters

Are you a renter? Here’s some helpful information about renting in Texas.

More than 6 million Texans–about one in five–rent their homes. A number of state and federal laws are in place to ensure that rental housing residents and property owners are treated fairly.

Here is some basic information about renting a home or apartment in Texas. Many problems can be avoided by carefully reading and following the provisions included in a written lease.

Disaster resources for renters: Updated November 7, 2017

Housing availability info: For renters looking to find housing

Here are some resources for finding available housing. We will add similar portals or resources to this list as available.

Statewide/Regional

ALN (focused more on availability outside of Houston; includes information on rent deals and fee specials)

Entrata

Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs resources for listing and finding affordable reduced rent housing options

MRI Software

Yardi/RentCafe  Those seeking housing can also call the Yardi/RentCafe toll-free hotline: 844/363-6317

Houston and surrounding area

Harris County Housing and Community Resource Center

Houston Association of Realtors Temporary Housing Search

Houston Housing Availability:  powered by Smart

Emergency assistance services and information

American Red Cross Hurricane Harvey Response Information

Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs resources for listing and finding affordable reduced rent housing options

HoustonRecovers.org; links to resources where you can volunteer, donate and register for assistance; updates from City Hall

State and federal assistance information

Sheltering and immediate assistance available (Department of Homeland Security info)

Directory of emergency assistance services in Houston area

List of Local Mental Health Authorities and Local Behavioral Health Authorities  There are 39 LMHAs/LBHAs in Texas. Each LMHA/LBHA provides mental health services to adults and children who have severe and persistent mental illnesses (SPMI) such as schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder, and other severely disabling mental disorders which require crisis resolution or ongoing and long-term support and treatment. However, many LMHAs/LBHAs in affected areas are in the process of hiring and mobilizing crisis counselors that can be called upon to assist survivors in the community. Individuals in need of crisis services are not required to have a formal mental health diagnosis to qualify for services. The disaster crisis counselors and other mental health crisis services can be accessed through the LMHA/LBHA crisis hotline numbers. You can call on behalf of someone or encourage and support someone to call for themselves.

List of substance abuse Outreach, Screening, Assessment and Referral Centers Fourteen of the 39 LMHAs/LBHAs operate regional Outreach, Screening, Assessment, and Referral (OSAR) centers which provide regional coordination of substance use disorder treatment services. You can call on behalf of someone or encourage and support someone to call for themselves.

Apply for assistance; other important reminders

Renters impacted by a natural disaster may wish to contact the following agencies for information and assistance:

Frequently asked questions

Do I have to pay rent if my residence was damaged during a disaster?

At most rental properties, rent is due on the first of the month. Under Texas Apartment Association leases, rent is still due even if the property is damaged or needs repairs, though property owners can make allowances at their discretion. If you have a question about your rent during the aftermath of a natural disaster or catastrophe that has damaged your residence, contact your property owner or manager as soon as possible to discuss your circumstances and get more information.

Can a property owner terminate a lease due to natural disaster or catastrophe?

If a rental property owner believes that catastrophic damage is substantial, or that taking care of needed repairs poses a danger to residents, Paragraph 26.5 of the TAA Lease allows the owner to terminate the lease by giving residents at least 5 days’ written notice.

If your lease is terminated under these circumstances, the property owner is obligated to refund prorated rent and all deposits, less lawful deductions. Property owners may also remove personal property if it causes a health or safety hazard.

Under Section 92.054(b) of the Texas Property Code, if the premises are totally unusable after a catastrophe, a resident can terminate the lease. The owner can also terminate the lease if the premises are totally unusable. Delays an owner experiences in getting insurance proceeds and “reasonable repair time” under the state’s habitability statute are not factors if the premises are totally unusable. See “If repairs are needed” on this page for important information about how to give notice that repair is needed, and other information about what can be considered a “reasonable” time for an owner to make repairs.

If the premises remain totally unusable after a catastrophe, a resident cannot be forced to stay and the resident can terminate the lease—even if the owner is making every effort to promptly repair the premises. Similarly, a resident cannot stop an owner from terminating the lease if the premises are totally unusable.

What if the residence is only “partially” unusable?

Under Section 92.054(c) of the Texas Property Code, if the premises are partially unusable (i.e., only part of the premises are usable or the entire dwelling was unusable for a short period of time like a day or two because of high water, etc.), a resident cannot terminate the lease merely because the damage is causing inconvenience or unsightliness. But a resident is entitled to a proportionate rent deduction unless otherwise agreed in a written lease.

In paragraph 26 of the TAA Lease Contract, the lease language clearly states that rent will not abate under any circumstances, including a circumstance such as a flood. Therefore, owners have no legal duty under the Texas Property Code or the lease to give a rent reduction because of partially unusable premises. However, there is also nothing preventing owners from offering a deduction, if they wish to do so.

What if I don’t return to my damaged residence?

If a resident unlawfully abandons the unit, the resident is responsible under paragraph 14 of the TAA Lease Contract for all rent through the end of the lease term. However, if the owner is able to relet the premises, the owner has to credit the amount of rent received from a future resident against what the former resident owed. Of course, if the resident terminates the lease because the entire dwelling is unusable, the resident is not liable for rent after the termination date.

Can the owner turn off utilities to make repairs or for other reasons?

Under state statute (Texas Property Code, Section 92.008), it is permissible for an owner to interrupt utilities (temporarily cut off water, electricity, etc.) if the need for the interruption is for bona fide repairs, construction or an emergency situation. Additionally, paragraph 26 of the TAA Lease Contract specifically states that the owner has the right to turn off utilities as needed to avoid property damage or to perform work. If utilities are off for a long period, for example when the utility company cannot provide the service, the law and remedies are unclear.

Can an owner remove my belongings after a disaster?

The property owner may exercise rights under paragraph 28 of the TAA Lease Contract, which allows entry into a unit according to the procedures set forth in the paragraph for reasonable business purposes, including removing health or safety hazards. “Health or safety hazards” could include wet items posing potential health and safety risks, or removing perishable foodstuffs if electricity is cut off.

The TAA lease does not give the owner the right to remove a resident’s personal items that do not pose a potential health or safety threat. If no one is in the dwelling, an owner may enter for any of the reasons listed in paragraph 28, but must leave written notice of entry in a conspicuous place in the dwelling immediately after entering (preferably taped to the inside of the main entry door).

Paragraph 8 of the TAA Lease Contract makes it clear that property owners are not liable for damage from a natural disaster to residents’ personal possessions (unless of course an owner’s negligence was also a cause of the damage). Owners should nonetheless exercise reasonable caution while handling the residents’ possessions during the course of any repair work—regardless of whether the items are left in the dwelling or removed from the dwelling because of health considerations. Owners should try to obtain a resident’s permission before removing personal property if possible.

Does the property’s insurance cover my belongings?

The rental property owner’s property casualty insurance does not and cannot insure a resident’s personal belongings. This is because rental housing owners do not have an “insurable interest” in the resident’s property because the property belongs to the resident. Paragraph 8 of the TAA Lease states that the owner’s insurance does not cover loss to a resident’s personal property and indicates whether or not residents are required to buy renter’s insurance.  Also note that flood damage may be a special case that might not be covered under renter’s insurance.

Important: Price gouging is prohibited

Texas law prohibits charging excessive or exorbitant fees for certain life necessities, including housing and lodging, following a disaster. The Office of the Attorney General Consumer Protection line accepts price-gouging complaints.

Call: 1/800-621-0508
Email: consumeremergency@oag.texas.gov

 

Once you find a place where you want to live, you will be required to fill out a rental application.

You will be charged a non-refundable application fee to cover the cost of verifying your credit, rental history, etc.

Make sure you know the owner’s rental qualifying criteria before you complete an application. The owner is required to make such rental criteria available to you. If you know that you do not meet the criteria, you might rethink submitting an application to rent at that property.

An application deposit may also be required. This deposit is applied toward your security deposit if your application is approved. If not, the deposit is refundable in most cases. However, depending on the application you fill out, the deposit may not be refunded for reasons such as if your application is approved but you decide not to move in, or you fail to tell the truth on your application.

If an owner acts in bad faith and fails to return an application deposit, the owner may be liable under Texas law.

Texas law provides that unless notified of acceptance, a rental applicant will be presumed to be rejected at the end of the seventh day after the owner receives a completed rental application. If the seventh day falls on a weekend or holiday, the deadline for notifying an applicant of acceptance is extended until the end of the next business day.

Review a sample TAA Rental Application for Residents and Occupants

Most disagreements between residents and rental housing owners or managers occur because of misunderstandings about the obligations taken on by each party when an apartment or other rental housing is leased.

The best ways to avoid problems are to:

  1. Read your lease carefully before signing.
  2. Ask questions about anything that is unclear.
  3. Put everything in writing, including agreements, notices and requests.

Keep a copy of the lease signed by you and the owner or manager, as well as any community policies or rules. Under Texas law you have a right to receive a copy of your lease.

Make a checklist of the condition of the property and any furnishings when you move in. (Most properties will provide you with an inventory and condition form). Sign it, have the manager sign it and keep a copy. This will be helpful if there is a dispute over deductions for repairs when you move out.

Keep your rent payment current. Even if you have a dispute, you should not withhold rent since that could make you subject to eviction.

Review a sample TAA Apartment Lease Contract. (English) (Spanish)

You should obtain renter’s insurance to provide protection for your personal belongings in case of burglary, fire, natural disasters or other catastrophes. The property owner’s insurance does not cover your personal belongings against loss. Renter’s insurance can also help if you are liable to the owner and others for certain acts which are normally covered by insurance policies. For more information, contact your insurance agent or the Texas Department of Insurance.

Check your lease for provisions outlining when the owner or manager may enter your unit, regardless of whether you are home.

Some reasons may include:

  • Responding to repair requests
  • Preventative maintenance
  • Showing the dwelling to prospective buyers or renters, and
  • Responding to health or safety concerns

If the lease requires management to make repairs, submit all repair requests in writing and keep a dated copy.

In most cases, the owner must repair security devices or any condition that materially affects the health or safety of an ordinary resident. Give the owner/manager written notice of the needed repairs, and keep a dated copy.

If you don’t receive a response within a reasonable time, re-notify the owner/manager orally and in writing. If you still don’t get a response, you may have legal grounds to exercise statutory rights of lease termination, compulsory repairs, damages, penalties, third-party repair and deduct, and attorney’s fees. (Instead of giving two separate written notices, you can give a single notice if it meets certain standards provided under state law.)

Specific procedures must be followed for statutory remedies, and disregarding those procedures can expose you to a civil damages suit against you by the owner. Repairs of problems resulting in mere discomfort or inconvenience are not covered by the statute.

The city building inspector’s office or county health department may be able to help if the condition violates housing codes regarding safety and sanitation.

All rental dwellings must have smoke alarms installed by the owner. Hearing-impaired residents may also request installation of visual smoke alarms.

You are responsible for replacing batteries during your lease term and checking to make sure that the smoke alarm is working.

It is against the law to disable or disconnect a smoke alarm or to remove working batteries without replacing them. Anyone who disables a smoke alarm may also be responsible for damages if a fire occurs.

Texas law requires that rental dwellings have certain security devices. For example, exterior doors must generally have a doorknob lock or a keyed deadbolt, a keyless lock (with certain exceptions for elderly or disabled residents) and a peephole. Sliding glass doors must have a pin lock and a security bar or door handle latch.

Texas law also requires the owner to rekey all exterior door locks between the time the prior resident moved out and the seventh day after you move in.

If the owner fails to install or rekey security devices, you have the right to do so and deduct the reasonable cost from your next rent payment.

Subject to some limitations, you may also request security devices to be added, changed or rekeyed, but you must pay for them unless the device is required by statute when occupancy begins.

On occasion you may want to find out the name and address of the owner or the management company that is responsible for the property. Upon written request to the managing agent of the owner, you are entitled to be given the name and mailing address of the owner and/or the name and street address of the property management company.

This information is also available to government officials acting in an official capacity.

If you sign a lease but don’t move into the rental unit by the lease (move-in) date, the owner must return your security deposit or rent prepayment if either you or the owner find a replacement resident who is satisfactory to the owner, and if the replacement resident moves into the dwelling on or before the lease commencement date.

If the owner secures a satisfactory replacement resident who occupies the dwelling before the lease commencement date of the original resident, the owner may retain or deduct from the security deposit or rent prepayment: (1) a sum agreed to in the lease as a lease cancellation fee; or (2) the actual expenses incurred by the owner in securing the replacement, including a reasonable amount for the owner’s time in securing the replacement resident.

The law does not limit the amount of the lease cancellation fee or the amount due for the owner’s time.

Make sure you comply with whatever notice requirements are in the lease for moving at the end of your lease. Be sure to provide this notice in writing. Most leases require at least 30 days (and often longer) notice.

If you must move before your lease expires notify the owner/manager immediately. Normally you still will be liable for all of the rent for the remainder of the unexpired lease term even if you’ve quit school, changed jobs, lost a roommate, etc., but sometimes this can be worked out if a replacement is found.

You may also be responsible for a reletting fee if the lease provides for one. This fee is a liquidated amount for damages to compensate the owner for the time and expense incurred in finding a new resident.

Members of the military or new enlistees may be eligible to terminate their lease without penalty if deployed or receiving a permanent change of station.

Victims of domestic violence or sexual assault may also be able to terminate their lease without penalty, upon showing certain proof to the property owner.

A security deposit helps cover any damages or unpaid money you may owe the property owner at the end of your lease.

What can be deducted from your security deposit?

  1. Any charge specified in the lease or any charge resulting from your breaking the lease.
  2. Charges for damages, wear and tear resulting from negligence, carelessness, accident or abuse on your part. “Normal wear and tear” items cannot be deducted.
  3. Unpaid rent and other unpaid charges listed in your lease, such as those for late rent payment, returned checks, missing furniture or fixtures, unreturned keys, etc.
  4. The reasonable cost of cleaning if you fail to properly clean before you leave. Many rental properties have written cleaning instructions for you to follow.

Any deduction must be listed in a written description and itemization mailed to you on or before 30 days after you leave. However, there is no obligation that you be furnished this information if you have not paid all of your rent or if you have not given your forwarding address in writing.

If you have not paid your rent or violate other provisions in your lease, you receive a notice to vacate. If a written lease states so, this notice may be given to the resident just one day before the resident is asked to move out. If a written lease does not state otherwise, the notice must be given at least three days in advance.

If you do not comply with the notice, the owner may file an eviction lawsuit in justice of the peace court. You will then be served lawsuit papers by the constable. Within 14-21 days after the eviction lawsuit is filed, the justice of the peace will schedule a hearing.

Note: If you believe you have a valid defense to the eviction action, you should consider retaining an attorney.

Answers to common questions about TAA

  • No. TAA is not a state agency or regulatory body. We have no regulatory or enforcement authority. We are a trade association representing rental property owners, management companies, builders, developers and companies that supply products and services to property owners, managers and developers.
  • No. TAA does not own or manage rental housing property. TAA members may choose to use TAA’s standard leasing forms and related documents.
  • TAA does not keep rental history records on individuals. Some TAA member companies do provide rental history screening services. The Houston Apartment Association also provides a resident screening service for its members.
  • TAA does not investigate or mediate disputes between rental housing owners and residents. We refer all resident complaints to the local apartment association in the area. Enter your zip code in the field on this page to find the local apartment association in your area.
  • TAA promotes high professional standards for our members and communicates regularly with them about changes in the laws and regulations that govern rental property. We also provide resources and assistance to ensure that our members are operating effectively, legally and ethically.
  • In addition, TAA is a key proponent of legislation that has improved habitability and security standards for residents of rental housing. Legislation supported by TAA has set the standard for security devices (locks and other items) required in residential rental housing. Texas laws are among the nation’s toughest for required security devices and for return of security deposits.
  • TAA has also supported uniform statewide fencing requirements for pool yards at rental properties to improve pool safety and reduce the likelihood of accidental drowning.
  • TAA has also been instrumental in supporting the passage of meaningful tort reform in the state. These reforms have helped keep a lid on operating costs and costs associated with frivolous lawsuits, which can lead to increased rental costs.
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