Housing and Community Development Department
Fair Housing - Tenant Law - Evictions
For a landlord to evict anyone, he or she must deliver a written "notice to vacate." This may be any kind of written note saying that the landlord wants you out. He or she may give you from 1 to 30 days to move. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO MOVE. Next you'll receive an official eviction notice with a court date on the back. Go to court on the date assigned to you, and the Judge will decide when you have to move. If you do not appear in court on the given date, you will probably lose by "default". If you feel you cannot get a fair hearing in the court assigned to you, ask to have your case changed to another court. Here is how:
You and two other persons must sign separate statements stating that "to your knowledge you cannot get a fair hearing in the court assigned to you". Ask to have your case changed to another court. These are to be presented, in person, to the Justice of the Peace assigned to you.
Sometimes you might try to pay your RENT, and the LANDLORD WILL REFUSE TO ACCEPT IT. He or she may be trying to trap you into an eviction based on "failure to pay rent." If this happens, go back with your rent money in the form of a check or dated money order. Bring a friend who can act as a witness. Later you will have the witness and the money order as your proof that you attempted to pay rent. This will strengthen your case in court.
Eviction by Force or Violence
A landlord may not evict you by force or violence for any reason. If you lose in court but don't move, only the sheriff's office can move you out, and not the landlord. If your landlord tries, call a lawyer.
Eviction - Your day in J.P. Court (Small Claims Court)
After the constable has served you with an official eviction notice, your court date will be set from 8 to 10 days later. The number of the Justice of Peace's court will be on the back of the official eviction notice. This is a hearing and not a trial. No records are kept. This is the time for you to tell your side of the story. You do not have to have a lawyer, but you may if you wish. You may request a jury. If you wish to have a jury, ask the judge before the hearing begins. There is a $5.00 jury fee paid to the J. P. clerk.
If you plan to change courts, this will have to be done before the date of the hearing as described before.
What to bring:
When you go to court, be sure to bring witnesses, receipts, photographs of condition and statements by other residents.
If the landlord wins:
If the landlord wins the case, you have five (5) more days to move out. Many judges will extend this time.
If you live in public housing, you should not be evicted without:
- Written notice of the specific reason for eviction;
- An impartial hearing before a grievance panel which includes tenants;
- The right to ask questions of the witnesses who complained against you.
Constructive Eviction, or how to be evicted without being asked to leave
If the landlord or manager does something which MAKES IT IMPOSSIBLE TO KEEP LIVING IN YOUR HOME, you are free of further obligation to pay rent if you move as soon as possible, as a result of this action. You do not have to give notice. This is the "Doctrine of Constructive Eviction."
Many things constitute constructive eviction - others do not. If you are not sure, call a lawyer.
- Your utilities are turned off, but your rent has been paid in full.
- You are locked out by the landlord. There is no note as to the location of the key, or the landlord won't give you the key;
- The door is removed;
- The landlord constantly trespasses.
Getting a Lawyer
In many instances it has been suggested that you call a lawyer. But, how do you get one? It is not difficult. If your income is not high, you can get FREE LEGAL ADVICE from the GULF COAST LEGAL FOUNDATION or THE HOUSTON VOLUNTEER LAWYERS PROGRAM.
- Lawyers - Gulf Coast Legal Foundation Office
2626 S. Loop W (77054), PHONE 713.652.0077
- Lawyers - Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program
806 Main, 16th Floor, PHONE 713.228.0732
- Lawyers - Houston Lawyer Referral Service
PHONE 713.237.9429 The service will cost you $20.00 for 30 minutes of legal advise.
Small Claims Court or Justice of Peace Court
Sometimes you may feel you deserve MONEY for damages caused by the landlord. You may sue in SMALL CLAIMS COURT. It is easy and inexpensive.
- Part of your deposit was kept unfairly.
- The landlord knowingly damaged or destroyed your furniture while legally or illegally moving it.
Determine how much money you believe you are owed. Justice courts in Harris County will accept claims up to $5,000.00.
Present the following statement to the landlord:
To Landlord's full name
I herewith present my claim against you for $_____________ , for
(Describe damage, cost and why you believe her or she owes you the amount above)
and I request that such claim be paid. If it is not paid at the expiration of thirty days after the presentation of this claim, I shall immediately thereafter institute suit thereon in the proper court.
Claimant (print your name here)
Sign your name here
(print your address here)
If after 30 days you have received a negative reply or no reply, you may sue in Small Claims Court.
Write down the amount of money you believe you deserve (under $5,000) and why you believe the landlord owes it to you. Because you are suing, you must have proof of the reasons you deserve the money.
Example: Your furniture was left in the rain for several hours while your landlord was moving it. You feel you deserve the money it will take to repair the damages.
Go to the right Small Claims Court. To find the right one, look in the telephone book under your county for the name of the Justice of the Peace in your area. This is where you will file your claim.
Bring with you:
- Your landlord's name, address and where he or she can be reached during working hours.
Ask the clerk to prepare a Small Claims statement for you. You will be charged a filing fee, and if you choose to have a jury, an additional fee will be paid to the clerk.
If you have witnesses who are essential to your case who will not come to court, bring extra money and their names and addresses. Then ask the clerk for a subpoena. Your hearing will be about 10 days later. IF YOU DO NOT SHOW UP, YOU WILL LOSE.
BE ON TIME. When you get there, be seated. The judge will call your name and ask if you are ready to begin. Answer "READY."
If you have paid for a jury, you and the landlord will choose jurors. You may question the jurors and excuse three for any reason. After excusing a third juror, others must be released for a good reason. (If a juror is the landlord's friend, that is a good reason.)
The judge will explain how the court works. You and the landlord will be sworn in. You will tell your story first. You should present all your witnesses and evidence. Then the landlord will tell his story. The jury will then decide if you won and the amount of the claim.
If you lose, you may appeal within 10 days. The landlord may also appeal. NO MATTER WHO APPEALS, BRING ALL YOUR EVIDENCE AND BE SURE TO GO TO COURT AGAIN. Even if you WON the first time, you will lose the second time if you do not go.
If you win, the landlord will probably pay you after the hearing. If the landlord doesn't, tell the clerk. A constable will be asked to collect your claim money. There is a small fee for this.
Ownership Disclosure Act
The Ownership Disclosure Act states that a landlord has a duty to disclose to any tenant the name and street address of both the owner and property management company which manages the rental property. The landlord may furnish the names and address of the owner and management company by any of the following methods:
- by giving a written copy of the information to the tenant prior to the tenant's request or within seven days after receipt of tenant's request;
- by having the information posted continuously in a conspicuous place at the time of the tenant's request or within seven days after receipt of the tenant's request; or
- by having the information included in the tenant's copy of the written rental agreement or written rules and regulations furnished to the tenant prior to tenant's request for the information.
A tenant need not request the name and address of the owner and management companies in writing unless written notice is required in the written lease. If a landlord refuses to comply with the demands of this Act, a tenant may seek monetary relief in J P Court
When Can Tenant Move If Transferred to Another City?
If your employer transfers you to another city and there is time remaining on a written lease, you do not have the right to move when you are transferred. You may terminate a lease early according to the provisions in the lease. If the lease is silent on conditions allowing an early termination, you may not leave early without penalties.
- The landlord may assess the rent for the remainder of the lease period.
- You may be responsible for damages the landlord incurs in trying to lease the dwelling to another tenant.
If you do not have a lease, the arrangement may be terminated by the landlord or the tenant for any reason. The law only requires 30 days notice, in writing.
How Can Tenants Get Security Deposit Returned?
The Texas Security Deposit Law requires a landlord to return security deposits within 30 days after a tenant moves out. The landlord may also give the tenant written reasons why the deposit will be late, or will not be returned to the tenant. The tenant is responsible for requesting the deposit within a specific period after the thirty (30) days have lapsed. If the deposit is not returned, or some explanation is not given from the landlord, the tenant may sue the landlord in Small Claims Court for the money. Tenants may be entitled to three (3) times the deposit, plus an additional $100 and court costs or attorney's fees. Tenants may also sue if the landlord's reasons for withholding the deposit are unsatisfactory.