Can a landlord lock me out of my apartment? Renter’s rights FAQ

HOUSTON – From unhealthy and dangerous living conditions to sky-high rent increases, we get a lot of questions about your rights when it comes to renting. The issues impact a lot of people. At least half of all Houstonians are renters. We brought some of your questions to Lone Star Legal Aid attorney Eric Kwartler to get answers.

Can my landlord - without notice - lock me out of my apartment?

The short answer is no.

“They have to give you one several days in advance and one when they lock you out saying that you’ve been locked,” said Eric Kwartler with Lone Star Legal Aid. “They have to give you a new key to the lock. They have to 24/7. So they have to provide a number on there that says you can call this number any time, any day, and you can come and get a new key. You do not have to pay your rent to get a new key.”

Does a “notice to vacate” warning mean I have to leave?

Vacate warning is not the actual act of forcing you from your home or apartment. (Copyright 2021 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

Kwartler said contrary to what a lot of people think, the notice to vacate warning is not the actual act of forcing you from your apartment or home.

“It does not mean that if you’re not out in three days, the constable will come and assist the landlord in removing all you and all of your belongings,” Kwartler said. “Keep a dialog open with your landlord. Just because they gave you a notice to make it doesn’t mean they’re going to file an eviction right away. So talk to them, see if you can get into a payment plan, and talk to someone about rental assistance.”

Can landlords in Texas raise rent as high as they want?

Yes, they can.

“There are basically no realistic limits on the amount that they can raise the rent, but they cannot raise it during the lease. So they try to raise your rent during the lease, then that’s no good. But once the lease expires, you’re now month to month and so with 30 days’ notice, they can raise your rent. Even if they don’t tell you, you have to be out.”

Can landlords just keep your security deposit?

  • By law, landlords must return your security deposit within 30 days after you move out.
  • If they keep any part of it, they must give you an itemized list of damages they allege you caused.
  • The landlord can’t legally charge you for normal wear and tear on the property.
Renter's Rights in Houston. (Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

This example is on the Texas Attorney General’s website: The landlord may not charge you for normal wear and tear on the premises and may only charge for actual abnormal damage. For example, if the carpet simply becomes more worn because you and your guests walked on it for a year, the landlord may not charge you for a new carpet. If your water bed leaks and the carpet becomes mildewed as a result, you may be charged.

No matter what type of issue you are dealing with:

“Don’t stop paying your rent because you don’t think you should have to pay it. Always pay your rent. That’s the number one.”

How to get help with apartment issues

In the Houston area, you can call the Houston Apartment Association and speak with a trained consultant to help answer your questions or to file a complaint against a property owner.

Here is what the HAA website said about helping people in the community: Apartment and other rental housing residents can contact the Houston Apartment Association at (713) 595-0300 to speak to a trained consultant and ask questions about renter rights, the TAA lease contract or to file a complaint against their property owner. The Houston Apartment Association provides a variety of resources to aid renters and landlords in finding an amicable, fair resolution to landlord-renter disputes.

You can also call Lone Star Legal Aid or the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

Who do I call if I need help paying rent?

Call Texas Health and Human Services at 2-1-1 to learn about organizations helping with emergency rent and utility assistance. Catholic Charities also helps connect people with agencies that can help with bills.

We’ve put together a list of a few other organizations in the Houston area that might be able to help you. Keep in mind, the agencies mentioned above might connect you with these same groups, so make sure before reaching out.

The Houston Apartment Association also has a guide to help you find the right assistance group for you.

See my full interview with Lone Star Legal Aid on tomorrow’s Ask Amy episode - on at 11:30 a-m on KPRC2+.

Renter's Rights in Houston. (Copyright 2023 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

About the Authors:

Passionate consumer advocate, mom of 3, addicted to coffee, hairspray and pastries.

Award-winning TV producer and content creator. My goal as a journalist is to help people. Faith and family motivate me. Running keeps me sane.