Several changes to Texas tenant/landlord law went into effect on January 1, 2016. Senate Bill 1367 was supported by the Texas Tenants’ Union, and it makes several improvements to tenant/landlord law, including expanding the methods for delivering repair requests to trigger tenants’ rights, prohibiting lease provisions that waive a tenant’s right to a jury trial, and requiring new owners to notify tenants that they have purchased the property.
The bill was authored by Senator Royce West (D-Dallas), sponsored in the Texas House by Representative Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) and co-sponsored by Representative Rene Oliveira (D-Brownsville).
Texas Tenants’ Union Board President Alice Basey stated, “While much still needs to be done to improve Texas tenant/landlord law, we are steadily winning protections for tenants in the State Legislature. We are grateful to Senator West and Representative Anchia for carrying the torch. ”
Sandy Rollins, director of the Texas Tenants’ Union, added, “These changes will alleviate everyday injustices faced by tenants.”
Here is a description of the bill:
It changes the repair law to expand the way notices can be delivered to trigger the landlord’s duty to repair. Currently, if the tenant’s request for repairs is sent by certified mail, return receipt requested or by registered mail, only one notice is required. If the notice is sent by any other method, two notices must be given. A reasonable period of time must lapse after each notice before the tenant can exercise their rights. If the tenant sends the notice by priority mail, express mail, or overnight mail by a private delivery service, it doesn’t meet the standard for one notice to be sent. When there is no heat, no water, flooding, sewage, electrical problems or other health and safety issues, time is critical. Tenants shouldn’t be denied their rights to repairs simply because they didn’t use the correct delivery service. When the statute was written, there were fewer trackable delivery services. SB 1367 will update the law to trigger the tenant’s right to repairs after a reasonable period of time when the tenant’s request for repairs is sent by any trackable form of delivery by the U.S. Postal Service or a private delivery service instead of only by certified mail, return receipt requested, registered mail, or by two separate notices.
It changes the security deposit law to state that the landlord has an obligation to notify tenant of any charges for damages even if there is not a refundable deposit. Tenants who move in on specials sometimes aren’t aware the landlord is claiming they owe damages until they look at their credit report.
It states a tenant’s right to a jury trial may not be waived. Landlord/tenant disputes are usually heard in the Justice of the Peace Court in the precinct where the property is located. Either party can request a trial by jury, unless the landlord has included a provision in the lease denying the tenant a jury trial. Most standardized leases do not include a waiver of the jury trial, but some less-than-ethical landlords include it in their contracts.
If a tenant is behind on rent and there is a “landlord’s lien” in the lease contract, the landlord can seize some of tenant’s property without going to court. If the landlord willfully violates the landlord’s lien law, the tenant is entitled to actual damages, return of any property seized that has not been sold, return of the proceeds of any sale of seized property and one month’s rent or $500, whichever is greater, less any amount for which the tenant is liable, and for reasonable attorney’s fees. Senate Bill 1367 updates the penalties for violation of the landlord’s lien from one month’s rent or $500, whichever is greater, to one month’s rent plus $1,000. The new language is consistent with recent changes to the lock-out law and utility cut-off law.
It clarifies the security deposit law by stating that the new owner shall deliver a signed statement that they have acquired the property and are responsible for the security deposit. Changes in ownership can be very confusing when a tenant is unsure who to pay rent to and who has their deposit. The current language is not clear.
There were two provisions amended onto the original 5 provisions of SB 1367.
The first provision slightly expands the circumstances under which landlords can deliver a notice to vacate on the outside of the main entry door prior to filing an eviction case, and requ/ires the notice to be put in a sealed envelope with the tenant’s name and address and the words IMPORTANT DOCUMENT on the outside of the envelope, and for the notice to be mailed in the same county by 5:00 pm on the same day.
The second allows landlords to install a handle latch lock on a sliding glass door instead of a pin lock.
The entire bill can be read at this link.