Photo by Allan Vega/Unsplash

(The Dallas Examiner) – In Dallas, around 300,000 residents live in poverty and almost 600,000 live in households that are struggling financially. Moreover, Texas has the largest population who live in economically distressed ZIP codes with 5.2 million people, according to the Economic Innovation Group.

With inflation causing housing, food and gas prices to increase, many of these local residents have been worried about keeping a roof over their heads.

Frances Espinoza, executive director with the North Texas Fair Housing Center, said her agency has received several calls from people in the area that are concerned about getting evicted from their homes or apartments.

On Aug. 30, the NTFHC, partnered with the North Central Texas Aging and Disability Resource Center and the Area Agency Center on Aging in North Central Texas to host Eviction: What You Need to Know, a virtual webinar.

“I thought it would be helpful to folks to know step by step what they can expect and know what is part of the process for eviction,” Espinoza said.

Lease agreements

“A lease is a binding contract, and I think sometimes people don’t see it that way,” she said. “But when it all comes down to it, it’s a contract that you’ve signed, committed to, and it can be for six months, 12 months, 18 months, whatever the tenant and the housing provider agree to. And leases typically cover a lot of issues and what you need to know about Texas is that there aren’t a lot of laws for the state that deal with the landlord tenant relationship. Many times when people have an issue in their housing, they really need to refer back to the lease to find out what their rights are. Texas is a very pro landlord state. So there’s a lot more laws that are protective of the housing provider and not the tenant.”

Espinoza emphasized the importance of going through the lease before signing it. Rental tenants that read every part of the lease agreement may not be aware of such things as rules regarding parking, when and where the trash is collected, monthly service or utility fees and other items that you may not have an opt-out option. Also, the renter should not feel bad about having to take time to read the lease thoroughly.

“So just make sure you read everything thoroughly,” she reiterated.

Late fees and nonpayment

Espinoza said most leases have a provision regarding when the rent is due, late fees and when they start accruing. For some, the rent may be due on the first day of the month and late fees begin accruing on the second. While others may give the tenant until the third to pay rent.

“Make sure you look at that term of the lease,” she said. “And if the housing provider has to start the eviction proceedings, a lot of times they shift the cost of those eviction proceedings to the tenant. So the tenant will then be liable for not only any unpaid rent, if that’s the reason for the eviction, but they’ll have to pay the attorney’s fees for the housing provider.”

It is important for renters to know the consequences of breaking a lease. The housing provider can put an eviction on the tenant’s record if they go through the court to get an eviction against them. Typically, a collections agency will pursue the former tenant to collect any unpaid rent. The unpaid rent can also be listed on the former tenant’s credit report.

When looking for an apartment or rental house, the renter’s background and credit report is often checked and often used in the determination process.

Lease renewal options

Espinoza explained that her office has also been getting a lot of calls from concerned residents about leases.

“People are upset that their lease is not going to be renewed, and it’s at the complete discretion of the housing provider as to whether or not they want to renew your lease,” she said. “And so the only exception to that is if you live in affordable housing. You know, housing that takes your income into consideration when they set your rental amount or any apartment buildings or multifamily housing that was built with tax credits or any kind of government funding. They have different rules, and they specifically can only decide to not renew a lease if there’s been a major breach of the lease that would be defined before the person signs the lease.”

Espinoza said that if tenets are in regular market rate housing, the housing provider can decide not to renew a lease for whatever reason they want, and they don’t even have to tell renters what the reason is. They could just give a notification that they’re not going to renew the lease. She said the only other exception to that is they can’t base their nonrenewal on discrimination.

“But if you know, they don’t have to tell you what the reason is. It’s really difficult to prove that they base their decision on discrimination,” she said. “A lot of what we’re hearing lately is that folks make repair requests or other complaints, and housing providers are upset with the tenant and as retaliation decides not to renew the lease. Now, that is retaliation. But that’s a difficult case for a tenant to bring because they would have to bring it in court and prove it. And that process takes time. And in the meantime, your lease could run out and so just you know, be aware that you know retaliation is not a valid reason to not renew your lease. But there’s no government agency or administrative body that could step in and say, okay, you have to renew this lease, you can’t decide to not renew it for this reason. You still may have to leave, and you could pursue your remedies in small claims court or Justice of the Peace court in Texas after you’ve moved out.”

Breaching the lease

An eviction is defined by a breach by the tenant.

“What we’re seeing right now is a lot of the evictions are based on unpaid rent, and that typically is the most common reason for a tenant to be evicted,” Espinoza said. “There could be evictions based on other breaches of the lease, like maybe somebody’s just being way too noisy and they’ve gotten warnings. The apartment may have a process of, you know, we’ll give you two warnings. And the third one, we’re just going to give you an eviction, but most typically what we’re seeing is evictions based on non-payment of rent, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that the tenant could never come up with the rent.”

Regardless, if a tenant misses the deadline to pay rent, whether it’s the first or third – even if are able to make a partial payment or pay the full rent on the fifth – the housing provider has the right to evict the renter for late payment.

The first thing that usually happens in an eviction process is the tenant has to be served a notice to vacate and for nonpayment of rent, which is usually a notice that the renter must move out in three days. 

“And if you don’t do that, then after that notice expires, the housing provider can file an eviction in court,” Espinoza said. “So the tenant doesn’t move. Then the eviction gets filed in court, and evictions are heard in the justice of the peace court, in whatever area that you live in. There’s a hearing and then after the hearing, depending on what happens if the tenant loses, the judge issues a writ of possession, meaning you’re given a date of when you have to move out and there is also an appeals process.”

The eviction

Espinoza then discussed Texas Property Code 24.005, the law that deals with a notice to vacate in Texas.

“Now the notice to vacate is required before a landlord can file an eviction. But know that if they don’t give you this notice, they could still file an eviction because the judge won’t look at the issue of whether they filed or whether they gave you a notice to vacate until you actually go to court and have the hearing,” she said. “But keep that in mind because if you don’t get the proper notice to vacate, the housing provider goes directly and files the eviction. If you raise that issue in court, the judge should dismiss the case because the landlord didn’t follow the proper procedure.”

The state’s property code has specific requirements about the notice and how it has to be delivered.

• It must be delivered to someone in the household who is 15 years or older.

• It can be delivered by certified mail.

• They can enter the unit and tape it onto the inside of the door.

• It can be taped on the outside of the door, but only if a dangerous situation exists.

“If they put it on the outside of the door, it should be in a closed envelope with the tenant’s name and address,” she added. “And a notice a copy of that must be mailed to the tenant the same day it was left on the door. So say the housing provider, put it on the outside of the door but didn’t put it in the envelope, just taped it up to the outside of the door and didn’t mail you a copy. Those are issues that you could raise in court and hopefully get the eviction dismissed.”

“So those are all things we call defenses at the eviction hearing, which really are not defenses as much as they are [that] the housing provider didn’t follow the proper procedure. The law goes step by step and what they have to do and gives them requirements. And if they don’t meet any of those, you have to raise that in court in order for the eviction to be dismissed. And if it is dismissed for one of those reasons. Be aware that the housing provider will probably remedy that issue and file again as soon as they can.”

Diane Xavier received her bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Texas A&M University in 2003. She has been a journalist for over 20 years covering everything from news, sports, politics and health....

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *