Understanding Texas Eviction Laws and Tenant Background Checks
Millions of renters get evicted every year, and recent reports show big Texas cities like Houston and Dallas leading the list with the most eviction filings in the country.
No landlord wants to go through the eviction process with their tenants as it can get messy and take up a lot of time. But when the choice is between that or going without rental income, it’s an easy decision.
Texas eviction laws cover permitted reasons for evictions along with the steps you’ll need to follow. It’s critical to know the rules not just to avoid illegal evictions but also to keep from having to start the process over again if you miss a deadline.
Let’s walk through the eviction laws and look at how you might avoid going down this path to start with.
Reasons to Evict
Evicting a tenant in Texas starts with understanding the reasons you are legally permitted to evict. You aren’t permitted to evict without cause if your tenant is on a fixed-term lease, so you need a good (and well-documented) reason to start the process. Reasons you can evict include:
- Non-payment of rent
- Failure to vacate after lease ends
- Lease violations
- Texas Property Code violations
- Foreclosure of the rental property
Under Texas rental laws, tenants must get at least a two-day grace period before their rent is considered late and the landlord can charge a late fee. But there is no grace period required before the landlord can serve a notice to vacate for failing to pay the rent.
Late rent, lease violations, and code violations can all be remedied, which stops the eviction process as long as the remediation falls within the notice period. The period is determined by the property code or rental agreement.
Landlords sometimes attempt to evict tenants for other reasons, which can cause problems. This is especially true when the landlord simply considers the renter a pest for exercising their rights to file complaints or pursue legal action against the landlord. Neither of these is considered a valid reason for an eviction notice.
Texas law also states that landlords can’t remove their tenants themselves, nor can they try to force them to move without going through the eviction process. That’s considered a “self-help” eviction and can result in a lawsuit brought by the tenant. This includes retaliatory conduct like cutting off utilities or changing the locks.
Texas Eviction Process
Once you have a legal reason to pursue eviction, it’s critical to follow the process laid out in the Texas Property Code. Any time a step isn’t done properly, you have to start the process over. The basic steps in Texas include:
- Notice posted
- Petition filed and served
- Court hearing and judgment
- Writ of possession issued
- Possession of property returned
The type of notice you post depends on the reason for evicting. Most of the differences revolve around the amount of time provided before the tenant has to vacate the property.
All notices must be in writing and served by delivery in person, placement on the property, or mail. The notice has to include all the important information to be considered valid and start the timer for vacating. This includes the reason for the notice, the final date and time for vacating, and a warning that the landlord can pursue legal action.
The notice could be the only step you need to take if the tenant vacates the property within the time posted.
Petition and Hearing
If the tenant doesn’t vacate, you would file a petition with the justice of the peace court, which can cost you $46-$100 in filing fees. The petition needs to detail all the pertinent identifying information, grounds for eviction, notice date, and delivery method, along with a few other things. Once it’s filed, the court issues a citation to the tenant at least six days before the eviction hearing.
The tenant can respond in writing or wait until the hearing. The hearing takes place 10-21 days after the complaint is filed and can take place before a jury. You should bring with you:
- Copy of lease
- Notice to quit or pay
- Complaint filed with the court
- Evidence or witnesses
If the tenant doesn’t show up, the court issues a default judgment for the landlord. A writ of possession — final notice to leave — is issued, and the tenant has 24 hours to vacate. If they don’t go, they can be forcibly removed at that point by the sheriff or constable.
Avoid Eviction Hassles With Screening
While the unexpected can happen and cause a tenant to get behind on their rent, proper tenant screening can help you avoid situations that end in eviction.
Good screening starts by setting your requirements, and prequalifying potential tenants against those. This could be through an initial phone call or by including your minimum conditions in your ad. These might include income, credit score, or lifestyle factors like pets or smoking.
A required application makes your process more formal and ensures you get all the information you need to conduct tenant background checks and verify income. The form also keeps you consistent with the questions you ask and the info you get.
The formal screening portion includes the background check and credit report. Financial stability and past rental history go a long way to figuring out if a person is at high risk of being a problem tenant whom you might have to evict someday.
Don’t Run Afoul of Texas Eviction Laws
Eviction is a word no landlord or tenant likes to hear, but times come when it’s the only course of action. Texas eviction laws exist to protect tenant rights, which means you need to know them well to ensure you stay within the lines. Make sure you understand the process and pay close attention to the various deadlines to ensure your eviction is legal.
While eviction filing fees in Texas are low, the process can be a drain on your time and energy. Contact us to find out how our customizable tenant screening can help you get a higher quality tenant in your property.