Who can I talk to if I have problems with my landlord?

Recently on our legal forum a user asked, "I have had problems with my landlord for several months. I am wondering if there is someone I can talk to or measures I can take to ensure my rights are protected?"

Many tenants do not realize that they have rights, rights which are protected in city and county ordinances as well as state laws. For example, in the State of Texas, the rules that govern the relationship between a tenant and a landlord are outlined in Chapter 92 of the Texas Property Code and other court rulings. The US Congress and other federal agencies have also established other laws and regulations which govern certain issues such as discrimination and environmental health hazards.

What do I do first if I am having a problem with my landlord?

Statutes and laws, however, can be confusing. What’s the first step to take if you are having problems with your landlord?

1. Review your lease and make sure you understand your rights.

Most landlords will require a tenant to sign a lease. The lease is a written contract which outlines the expectations and requirements of all parties. For example, the landlord will expect that you pay your rent in a timely manner according to predefined payment terms.

You also have rights. You have the right to quiet enjoyment of your residence. You have the right to live in a healthy and safe environment. So, for example in Texas, if your landlord refuses to make repairs, state law now allows the justice of the peace to force landlords to make repairs which are $10,000 or less.

You also have the right to demand that the proper safety devices (i.e. window latches, keyed dead bolts on exterior doors, sliding door pin locks and sliding door handle latches or sliding door security bars, and door viewers) have been installed in your rental unit at the expense of the landlord.

2. Talk to your landlord.

The second step after arming yourself with information about your rights is to talk to your landlord. It sounds simple, but many misunderstandings can be clarified with a calm conversation. After you have reviewed your lease and understand your rights under state and federal laws, you can approach your landlord and ask for what you need.

3. End the lease or have the repair done and deduct the cost from the rent.

Although state laws protect your rights, state laws also outline specific steps you must take to enforce your rights.

For example, if your landlord refuses to fix an issue in the house which is affecting your health and safety, you will need to send them a dated letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, or by registered mail, outlining the needed repairs.

Texas law allows the landlord a "reasonable time" after they receive your letter to make the repairs. Under some conditions, you will also need to send your landlord a second letter. If they still fail to make the repairs you may be allowed to terminate the lease, repair the problem and deduct the cost from your rent, or get a court to order to ensure the repairs are made.

Who can help me with my problem with my landlord?

Now you asked who can help you resolve the issue with your landlord. There isn’t necessarily a governing body who will immediately step in and force your landlord to behave lawfully. This does not mean, however, that you do not have legal steps you can take to resolve the issue.

For example, if the issue is a breach of contract- the landlord is not honoring the requirements of the lease agreement- you can sue them for breach of contract. If the case is a discrimination case you can hire a lawyer to help you file a complaint, represent you at a hearing, help you through the complaint process, and advise you about whether to file a lawsuit.

If it’s a federal issue, such as discrimination, there may be a governing agency, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), who might get involved in the investigation.

Bottom Line:

The best way to resolve your issues with a landlord are to understand your rights under the lease agreement, city ordinances, and state laws. If the landlord refuses to work with you, you can talk to a lawyer and find out whether it makes sense to file suit against them.

 

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