FAQs For Residents
One of the most important decisions a person makes is finding a place to live. If you are renting, you will sign a lease, which is a legal obligation to live someplace and pay rent for a certain length of time (usually six months or a year). There are very few exceptions in which a lease can be broken. Therefore, your rental home should be chosen with great care.
Once you find a place where you want to live, you will be required to fill out a rental application. In most cases, you will be charged an application fee to cover the cost of running credit checks, verifying rental history, etc. This fee is non-refundable. You may also be asked to pay an application deposit. This deposit is applied toward your security deposit if you are approved.
If it is not, the deposit is refundable in most cases. However, depending on the application you fill out, the deposit may not be refunded if you are accepted, but you decide not to move in, you fail to tell the truth on the application, or for certain other reasons.
If an owner in bad faith fails to timely return an application deposit, the owner may be liable for a civil penalty of $100, three times the amount of the application deposit and reasonable attorney's fees. There is no statutory deadline for return of an application deposit.
Texas law provides that a rental applicant will be presumed to be rejected at the end of the seventh day after the owner receives a completed rental application or application deposit unless the owner notifies the applicant of acceptance by that time.
If the seventh day falls on a Saturday, Sunday or holiday, the deadline for notifying an applicant of acceptance is extended until the end of the next day following Saturday, Sunday, or holiday.
You should check your lease for provisions outlining when the owner/manager may enter your unit. There are many legitimate circumstances in which management needs to enter, regardless of whether anyone is present in the unit.
The more important reasons can include:
- Responding to repair requests.
- Preventative maintenance.
- Showing the dwelling to prospective buyers or renter, and
- Responding to any situation threatening the health or safety of residents or damage to the property.
If you're a student or you don't earn enough money to qualify for an apartment on your own, you may be asked for a guarantor--someone who will guarantee to pay your rent if you don't.
A guarantor is usually a parent or relative but can be any adult who is willing to accept legal responsibility for fulfilling your obligations under a lease, if for any reason you do not.
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 the 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.
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.
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?
- Any charge specified in the lease or any charge resulting from your breaking the lease.
- Charges for damages, wear and tear resulting from negligence, carelessness, accident or abuse on your part. “Normal wear and tear” items cannot be deducted.
- 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.
- 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 injustice 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.