key on house keychainIn the early days of the pandemic, when all levels of government struggled to find solutions to mitigate the economic and public health effects of the COVID virus, a slew of new laws, government-backed programs, orders, and ordinances were advanced by municipal, state, and federal lawmakers (with many coming from the executive branch), leaving the citizens – in particular, business people, attorneys, and accountants, to interpret them the best we could at the time (and a lot of us had plenty of time on our hands to do so).

One set of programs enacted during this time brought unprecedented eviction moratoriums to Texas, among other forms of tenant assistance. Although most Texas municipalities (including the City of Dallas) have opted to officially terminate these COVID-related tenant assistance programs, many are now attempting to implement permanent changes that will advance many of the reforms of the COVID-related orders while (hopefully) clarifying the more hasty and reactionary portions of the orders.

Although most landlords don’t necessarily begrudge the reforms themselves – the centerpiece of most proposed measures would give tenants the right to cure back rent in order to stay in their premises, a “right” most Texans would probably assume they already had – landlords are concerned that advancing these measures at the municipal level rather than the state level will lead to a patchwork of laws leading to differences in enforcement across the state. Regardless of whether reform comes at the state or municipal level, for the time being at least, landlords and tenants in the metroplex will look to the mostly pre-pandemic Texas Property Code for guidance when it comes to residential evictions.

If you’re a landlord and have questions about your obligations to your tenants, the attorneys in our real estate practice might be able to help. Feel free to contact us for more information.

So, what does that mean if your tenant isn’t paying rent? Before we dive into what you can do as a residential landlord, it’s worth reviewing what you cannot do (if you want to steer clear of legal trouble).

What Rights Do Texas Renters Have?

Tenants have rights in every state and Texas is no different. One of the worst things you can do as a landlord is break the law; Not only could you wind up missing out on rent you’re owed, but you could wind up in court yourself.
According to Texas law, residential tenants have the following legal rights:

  • Quiet Enjoyment. This is a legal term of art that means a tenant cannot be evicted without cause. They also have the right to live in peace and quiet without unnecessary disruption. Texas code also stipulates that landlords may not interrupt a tenant’s utilities unless it is for bona fide repairs, construction, or an emergency.
  • Health & Safety. A landlord must repair any condition that materially affects a tenant’s health or safety, unless the need for repair was caused by the tenant. Texas requires that all landlords provide smoke detectors and tenants are not allowed to waive this requirement, nor may a tenant disconnect or disable smoke detectors.
  • Basic Security. All rented dwellings must have basic security features like keyed dead bolts on exterior doors, window latches on exterior windows, pin locks and handle latches for all exterior sliding glass doors, and a keyless bolting device and door viewer on the interior side of exterior doors.
  • No Retaliation. It is illegal for a landlord to retaliate against a tenant for making a bona fide complaint about necessary repairs for six months after the complaint is made. This does not restrict a landlord’s right to evict for failure to pay rent timely.
  • Security Deposits. A landlord cannot refuse to return a security deposit (within 30 days after tenant vacates the premises) without a valid reason.

What Rights Do Texas Residential Landlords Have?

Residential tenants aren’t the only ones with legal rights. Residential landlords maintain certain rights over their leased properties, and probably most importantly, the right to be paid rent in accordance with their lease. Since this article is focused on what landlords can do if a tenant can’t pay, we’ll cover the primary option available in those cases: eviction.


Residential evictions are a relatively complex process to navigate without an experienced attorney. Texas law requires that landlords first provide a tenant with a Notice to Vacate, which puts the tenant on notice that they have breached the lease. A Notice to Vacate must be in writing and give the tenant at least 3 days to vacate unless the lease provides a longer period (the lease may also require that notice of default and time to cure be given prior to the delivery of a Notice to Vacate). The Notice should include the date by which the tenant must leave and can be delivered personally, by mail, or by attaching it to the interior of the front door of the leased premises (or the exterior of the front door in certain circumstances).

If the tenant does not vacate by the date listed in the Notice to Vacate, landlords have the right to file an eviction suit in the precinct where the property is located. A hearing date will be set somewhere between 10-21 days after the suit is filed. It is important to note that landlords cannot remove the tenant or their property until the eviction process is complete (or the tenant abandons the property).

[Note: Landlord’s liens are rarely used in residential leases because most of the tenant’s property is exempt]

Tips & Best Practices for Residential Landlords

Whether you are faced with a delinquent tenant, or simply want to protect yourself against unpaid rent in the future, there are some guidelines we can offer. We recommend landlords protect themselves, at a minimum, by taking the following tips into consideration:

  • Have a written lease agreement;
  • Try to keep communication about late rent in writing;
  • Provide proper notice of default and Notice to Vacate before moving forward with an eviction;
  • In the Notice to Vacate, clearly state the reason for eviction;
  • Check your local jurisdiction’s website for local rules and ordinances that may affect evictions;
  • Consult with an experienced landlord/tenant lawyer to ensure your lease offers maximum protection against nonpayment.

For more information, contact the experienced attorneys at Brousseau, Naftis & Massingill. We represent some of the most prominent real estate professionals in the Dallas area – including residential and commercial landlords. Our firm provides a cost-effective approach during negotiations to help landlords avoid costly litigation whenever possible.