Facing eviction can my landlord change the locks and harass me?

Recently on our legal forum a tenant asked, “I am facing eviction. My landlord is threatening to change the locks and he is harassing me. Do I have any rights? I don’t want to move, but I need to know my options?”

Protections outlined in your rental agreement

The good news is if you are a tenant in a rental property you do have rights. The bad news is you will have to do some digging and researching to find out what rights are afforded to you in your state.

So how do you get started? You first need to review your lease agreement. Although there are many protections offered to tenants at the state and local level, your lease agreement will tell you when you have to pay your rent, who to send your rent to, how much you will be charged if your landlord does not receive it by a certain date, and what steps your landlord can take if you fail to meet the terms of your rental contract.

The second step is to talk to your landlord. Some landlords may be willing to work with you and accept a late payment without charging fees, but often the landlord is relying on your rent to pay their own mortgage payments for the property and they cannot offer any flexibility.

Legally evicting a tenant from a rental property

Now, what happens if you talk to your landlord and they tell you they are going to change the locks and throw you out the door? If they take a hard and illegal tactic you need to stay calm, but you also need to understand the laws of your state.

For example, in the State of Texas, the landlord must first give you a Notice to Vacate before they file a lawsuit against you. In fact, they have to give you three days to pay the rent or leave the property.

If you do neither the landlord still cannot just change the locks and remove your property. They must follow the legal steps of eviction outlined in state law, which includes filing a forcible entry and detainer suit against you and taking you to court.

If you receive notice that a lawsuit has been filed against you and you do nothing, the court will rule in favor or the landlord and someone will come and lock you out and remove your property. With this in mind, you need to answer the eviction suit and contact a lawyer if you have questions.

What do I do at the eviction hearing?

If you continue to fight the eviction and you do not vacate the property you will be required to appear at the eviction hearing. Now, unless you have some legal defense against the eviction, the court will find for the landlord and not only will you be forced out of the home but you might also have to pay for the landlord’s court costs. The eviction will also be noted on your credit report.

If you feel you have a valid reason to fight the eviction- the eviction case was filed too soon, the landlord discriminated against you, or the landlord retaliated against you for asking for certain repairs- you will need to make sure you have all of your information together for your defense before you go to court. If the court agrees with you they may find in your favor and you might get to stay in the home.

Bottom line: 

If you have a legal contract it will be enforced. Your landlord may not take matters into his own hands and toss your possessions into the front yard or change the locks on the front door, but he does have certain legal steps he can take to remove you from his property if you refuse to meet the terms of the rental contract.

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