Every day this firm receives calls from distraught Texas tenants. Often, they are having problems with their landlord not making a repair to their rental home.
First, a few principals that always apply when you enter into a dispute with your landlord:
• Read your lease. You should familiarize yourself with your lease whenever you have a dispute with your landlord. It is the single most important document involved in any landlord/tenant dispute.
• Document everything. Do not rely on verbal agreements. When possible, correspond with your landlord in writing. When it is not possible to correspond in writing, then follow-up any oral conversations with a written confirmation.
• Pay your rent. Texas Courts have no sympathy for tenants who do not pay their rent on time. A landlord is not required to make a repair if you are behind on your rent when you deliver the repair notice.
Chapter 92 of the Texas Property Code deals with residential leases. Specifically, sections 92.052, 92.056, and 92.0561 covers a landlord’s obligation to make a repair.
Duty to Repair under Texas Property Code 92.052, 92.056, & 92.0561
A Landlord in Texas has a duty to repair conditions not caused by the tenant that pose a health or safety hazard to the lawful occupants of the premise. Notice, the only duty the landlord has is to repair conditions that pose a health and safety hazard. Additionally, if the tenant or the tenant’s family or guests caused the condition, then the landlord does not have a duty to make the repair. Finally, if you are not current on your rent when you send notice to the landlord for the repair, then the landlord does not have a duty to make the repair.
The biggest hurdle with these cases is that often the tenant has not sent the proper notice to the landlord. Sending your landlord multiple text messages, emails, or filling out a work order with the property management company is usually not sufficient written notice. Oral communication such as telephone calls or voicemails will never qualify as proper written notice.
Even if your landlord tells you to send notice in manner that is inconsistent with your lease or the Texas Property Code, you should still send notice in the way the lease says to send notice or in accordance with the Texas Property Code. If you have to go to trial over this, the Judge is going to ask if you gave notice in accordance with your lease or in accordance with the Texas Property Code. Oftentimes, the lease will require notice be delivered in the manner prescribed by the Texas Property Code.
If the landlord does not repair the condition in a reasonable time after you send your first written notice, then you must send a second written notice to the landlord. If the landlord still does not repair the condition after receiving the second written notice, then he has breached his duty to repair and you may seek applicable remedies against him.
Pro Tip: You may skip the two-notice requirement all together by sending your first written notice via certified mail, return receipt requested, by registered mail, or by another form of mail that allows tracking of delivery from the United States Postal Service or a private delivery service. Sending notice this way means that the landlord is now liable for a breach of his duty to repair if he does not remedy the safety hazard in a reasonable amount of time. The Property Code creates a presumption that seven days is a reasonable amount of time for the landlord to remedy a condition. If it takes more than seven days, then the landlord must prove that seven days was not a reasonable amount of time to remedy this particular condition. Make sure you keep a copy of the notice you send with the tracking number and date written somewhere on the notice.
Pro Tip: You may skip the two-notice requirement all together by sending your first written notice via certified mail, return receipt requested, by registered mail, or by another form of mail that allows tracking of delivery from the United States Postal Service or a private delivery service.
Remedies for Failure to Repair
There are several different remedies the Texas Property Code makes available when a landlord fails to make the required repairs, they are: (1) terminate the lease; (2) have the condition repaired or remedied; (3) deduct from the tenant’s rent the cost of the repair or remedy; or (4) obtain a judicial remedy.
The tenant must apply these remedies in compliance with the Texas Property Code. It is recommended that the tenant review the Code or hire an attorney before trying to enact any of the above listed remedies. Failure to do so may result in the tenant destroying his claim against the landlord, or even worse, give the landlord cause to evict the tenant.
In many ways, Texas is a pro-landlord state, but there are a few remedies for tenants if they follow the procedure for enacting them correctly. Unfortunately, most renters do not know how to use these statutory protections to their advantage. Following these steps outlined in this article will put you on the right path to getting your safety hazard fixed so you and your family can live in your home or apartment with the peace of mind that you are safe. Of course, nothing is better than good representation from a qualified attorney, so if you decide you do not want to try to navigate the Texas Property Code alone, contact us and set up a consultation today.