What are my rights when being evicted from a rental property?
Tenant and landlord rights and eviction
As a tenant you have rights. Your rights vary by state, but they are outlined in state law under specific property codes and court rulings. For instance, in Texas, your tenant rights are governed by several statutes, particularly Chapter 92 of the Texas Property Code, and by various court rulings. Your rights are further defined by written or oral rental agreements with your landlord.
Common rights you may have per state statute include the right to quiet enjoyment, health and safety, basic security devices (window latches, keyed dead bolts on exterior doors, sliding door pin locks and sliding door handle latches), and the return of your deposit (unless the landlord has a valid reason).
If you are the landlord you also have legal rights. For instance, under certain conditions, you may have the legal right to forcibly remove a person from your property. In Texas this type of case is a "forcible detainer" suit and there are hundreds of these cases filed every day with Texas justice courts.
How can I evict a tenant?
1. Give notice to the tenant
To evict a tenant from your property you will need to give notice to the tenant. If the lease has expired or if the tenant has stopped making rental payments you may ask the tenant to leave the property by giving them proper notice. Make sure, however, you are not in violation of the Fair Housing laws, or retaliating in violation of the Texas Property Code.
If your tenant fails to leave your property after you have given proper notice you will have to file an eviction case with the Justice of the Peace. If the J.P. rules in your favor, a constable will supervise the eviction. The judge may, however, rule against you if you did not give the tenant proper notice, they decide you did not make required repairs, or you discriminated against the tenant due to their race, religion, disability, sex, national origin, color, or having children.
What if you are the tenant and you are asked to vacate the property? If you have failed to make rental payments or want to sign a new lease you will need to talk to your landlord. If you and the landlord cannot come to an agreement and they have given you proper notice to vacate the property, you will need to decide if you want to fight the eviction or vacate the property.
2. Fight the eviction
If you decide to fight the eviction and the landlord has filed an eviction suit against you, you need to respond to the eviction notice. Remember, if you lose the case the eviction will become part of your permanent record and could hurt your chances of renting in the future. If you fight your eviction case and you do not win, you may also have to pay the court costs or landlord's attorney's fees.
3. Attend the court hearing
The next step is to attend the eviction court hearing and present your case in court. You will need to have evidence to support any of your claims including a copy of the lease, any pictures, letters, documents, receipts, or witnesses who will offer information about your case. You may fight the case on substantive grounds, which means you did not do anything which justifies the eviction, or you can fight it on procedural grounds, which means your landlord did not use the proper procedures to bring the court case against you.
What's the bottom line? If you are the landlord or the tenant there are state laws outlining what you can and cannot legally do in an eviction. If you are the landlord you cannot simply throw the tenant's possessions out the door, change the locks, and call it a day. If you fail to follow state procedures for eviction you could face severe penalties. As the tenant you will also have to decide if you want to fight the eviction. If not, it might be time to move out.
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