How to deal with a bad landlord in Texas

Repairs, Shutoffs, Evictions...You have rights.

What renters should know before signing a lease

HOUSTON – Chances are at some point in your life you’ve dealt with a landlord who has no interest in addressing problems in your rented house or apartment.

In Texas, it’s tougher, in some circumstances, for tenants to gain a foothold in disputes with their landlord, according to Dana Karni, Litigation Director for Lone Star Legal Aid.

“We’ll get clients calling and saying that the water has been shut off, the electricity has been shut off, and any sort of attempt by the landlord to inconvenience the tenant in such a way that they really can’t live in the unit. The tenant in those situations are entitled to file a writ with the local justice of the peace to order the landlord to restore the utilities,” said Karni.

Karni said that Texas is weaker in terms of tenant protections versus many other states. So, if you’re landlord refuses to fix something, tenants should be careful with their next steps.

“Tenants have a couple of rights and options. None of them are really optimal. It would be great if we had a right to withhold rent until repairs were made, but that law does not exist in Texas,” Karni said.

Karni said that for some “critical” repairs related to health and safety, tenants can get three different bids and have the lowest bid work performed, but there are numerous pitfalls involved, especially if the work is botched.

She recommends an attorney, if you’re living situation comes to that point. See below for a low-cost/no-cost option for legal representation for tenants who qualify.

Here are some of Karni’s “important points” tenants should note:

Landlords are not required to make repairs if the tenant is behind on their rent.

Requests for repairs must be made in writing. Either mail the request twice by regular mail (about one week between mailings) or better yet, send the request by certified mail.

TexasTenant.org has a sample repair request letter for tenants to use.

“Under Texas law, no matter what the lease says, the landlord has to repair problems that materially affect the physical health or safety of an ordinary tenant and are not caused by the tenant, occupant, or a guest. "

There are six options listed on TexasTenant.org, including an option to terminate the lease. However, Karni strongly discourages tenants from unilaterally terminating their lease without consulting with an attorney.

Lone Star Legal Aid has an online portal for applicants at LoneStarLegal.org or tenants can call our office at 713-652-0077 to apply for legal services that are available for eligible tenants.