Landlords in Texas can’t just change the locks, toss your belongings out on the front yard, or shut down essential utilities. A landlord must follow the eviction process in order to have a tenant evicted for any reason. Here's an overview of what this means for tenants in Texas.
Written by Upsolve Team.
Updated December 22, 2021
If you don’t pay your rent or you violate one of the terms in your lease, your landlord may send you an eviction notice. If this happens, try not to panic. It helps to know your rights in the eviction process and how the process works. In many cases, you have options to address the issue.
If you're facing eviction in the Lone Star State, this article can help you understand when and how landlords can evict tenants. It will also discuss the eviction process and provide some tips to help you avoid it.
What Is Eviction?
An eviction begins after a landlord decides to remove a tenant from a rental property. A landlord must have a good legal reason to evict you, such as you didn’t pay rent on time or you broke a term in the lease. Since eviction is a legal process, Texas landlords must meet specific requirements before evicting you.
Before a landlord can start formal eviction proceedings, they must give you a notice to vacate. This notifies you of the problem, how you can fix it, or how much time you have to move out if you can’t fix it. In Texas, landlords must also have a court order called a writ of possession to remove you. If a landlord evicts you without a writ of possession, the eviction is an illegal eviction or illegal lockout.
Who Can Be Evicted in Texas?
In Texas, an eviction generally involves a landlord-tenant relationship. This relationship is formed when one person (the landlord) agrees to lease property to another person (the tenant) in exchange for rent. A landlord can also evict people living with a tenant even if they’re not on the lease.
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Why Can Someone Be Evicted in Texas?
There are three main reasons that landlords evict tenants:
The tenant is short, late, or behind on rent.
The tenant violates a lease term other than the requirement to pay rent.
The lease expires and the landlord chooses not to renew it, but the tenant remains on the property after the lease term ends. This is called holding over or a holdover tenant.
Late, Short, or Behind on Rent?
Unless the written lease agreement says otherwise, the landlord must give a tenant who defaults on paying their rent at least three days’ written notice to vacate the premises before the landlord files an eviction lawsuit (called a forcible detainer suit in Texas).
Lease Expiration or Termination
In Texas, landlords can evict you after the landlord has terminated the lease or if the lease has expired. In these cases, the landlord alleges that you no longer have the right to live in the property even if you’re not behind on your rent.
A notice of non-renewal is when the landlord or tenant notifies the other party that they’re not renewing the lease. If the lease expires and the tenant remains in the property, the landlord can file an eviction for lease expiration. If the landlord terminates the tenant’s lease because the tenant has violated a term of the lease, the landlord can also file an eviction. In this case, the landlord ends the lease early because the tenant has violated the lease in a way that ends their right to live in the property.
The Texas Eviction Process
The following is a basic summary of the general process in Texas for residential evictions.
What does a landlord have to do to begin an eviction?
In Texas, whether you fail to pay rent or violate a term of the lease, your landlord must give you a 3-day notice to vacate before filing an eviction lawsuit. If you receive this notice, you have three days to leave starting from the day you received the notice. If you don’t leave, you’ll face an eviction lawsuit. Texas law doesn’t require your landlord to give you the opportunity to pay rent or address other violations to avoid eviction The notice requirements may be different if your landlord participates in certain federal programs or the property owner has a federally backed mortgage.
This 3-day notice is a written demand for you to leave the premises. It must state that if you don’t vacate the premises by the 11th day after receiving the notice, then the landlord can recover attorney’s fees if they file an eviction lawsuit (forcible detainer action). The landlord must send the 3-day notice by registered or certified mail with a return receipt requested. They must also send the notice at least 10 days before they file the eviction lawsuit.
A landlord can deliver the notice to vacate by:
Personally giving it to the tenant or anyone residing at the premises who’s 16 or older.
Attaching the notice to the inside of the main entry door.
Sending it by regular mail, registered mail, or certified mail with return receipt requested.
If the landlord fails to provide the notice to vacate using any of these options, they must securely affix the notice to the outside of the main entry door in an envelope with your name, address, and the words “IMPORTANT DOCUMENT” or similar language. A landlord must do this by 5 p.m. of the same day that it also mails a copy of the notice to vacate to you.
While this 3-day notice is required by Texas law, your lease may have more lenient terms. If your lease says that your landlord has to let you respond to a notice of proposed eviction, then your landlord can’t give you the notice to vacate until the period to respond to the eviction notice has expired. This period will be outlined in your lease. In this situation, the landlord has chosen to give you a chance to respond to the issue before they ask you to leave.
What happens once the eviction action is filed with the court?
The following is a short summary of the legal eviction process in Texas.
The landlord files a lawsuit.
Once the notice period passes, a landlord can initiate the legal eviction process by filing the eviction lawsuit. This is called a forcible detainer lawsuit in Texas. The landlord files a complaint with the court, and the court issues a summons.
The landlord serves the tenant.
The landlord must have the summons and complaint served on you by the sheriff or constable at least six days before the eviction hearing. The summons must state the date, time, and location of the hearing.
The citation and petition for eviction must be served by giving a copy of the summons and complaint to you in person or leaving a copy with someone over the age of 16 where you live. If neither of these methods works, the landlord may serve you by first class mail and by leaving a copy of the citation and complaint in the mail slot or chute, under the door, or posted on the door of the rental unit.
The petition for eviction must contain all of the following information:
The address and a description of the premises that the landlord/plaintiff wants to take possession of/take back.
A description of the reason(s) for the eviction.
A description of when and how the notice to vacate was delivered.
The total amount of rent due and unpaid at the time of filing the petition for eviction.
A statement that the landlord is seeking attorney fees, if applicable.
There’s an eviction hearing.
The eviction hearing can’t take place less than 10 days ormore than 21 days after the petition is filed. You must attend this court date. If you don’t, you risk the court awarding a default judgment against you. This means the landlord wins the case and can proceed with the eviction uncontested.
As a defendant, you can file a written answer with the court within 14 days of receiving the complaint, but this isn’t required. You’ll still be able to respond to the eviction at the hearing even without a written answer. Either your landlord or you may request a jury trial three days before the trial.
Telling Your Side of the Story: Affirmative Defenses and Counterclaims
Simply filing a suit does not mean the landlord will win the eviction lawsuit. You should bring all documents and other evidence with you to support your affirmative defenses and counterclaims.
An affirmative defense is a specific reason why the landlord shouldn’t win. In effect, an affirmative defense states that even if the landlord’s claim is true, there are reasons and facts that invalidate the claim. One affirmative defense is that you have not received proper notice of possible eviction before receiving a notice to vacate, as required by Texas law.
Landlords are required by Texas law to keep rental premises fit for human habitation. This is called an implied warranty of habitability. If a landlord fails to make necessary repairs, such as replacing a broken furnace, you have the right to make the repairs and deduct those costs from the rent. If your landlord doesn’t make repairs promised in your lease or fails to keep your home in good repair, then your landlord has violated the lease and the law.
This is a valid defense that can help you if you’re being evicted for nonpayment of rent. You can refuse to pay rent for the time that your home wasn’t livable. You can also refuse to pay some portion of your rent for the part of your home that wasn’t usable. This defense requires you to show proof that your landlord failed to keep the lease agreement, which justified the amount of rent that you didn’t pay. You’ll need to show the condition of your home with photos, videos, inspection reports, and testimony of eyewitnesses who have observed the conditions.
To use this or a similar defense, you’ll need to have a record that you gave your landlord notice first. You can give this notice by sending a letter requesting repairs or by verbally informing the landlord that you’ll be withholding rent if the condition isn’t repaired. If your landlord fails to remedy the problem, you can make the repairs and deduct the cost from your rent. This defense also requires you to show that the repairs were necessary to continue living in the rental property. You must also prove that you gave the landlord notice. If you made the repairs, you’ll need to show the invoices and receipts for this work.
A counterclaim is a claim that you make against the landlord in the eviction lawsuit. You’ll have to raise this counterclaim in your answer with the court to the lawsuit. If you win the counterclaim, you won’t stop the eviction, but you may be awarded damages or reduce your liability.
What Happens After an Eviction Trial?
If the landlord wins the eviction lawsuit they must then request a writ of possession to evict you. They can only do this after the mandatory five-day appeal period has passed. The court can’t issue this writ earlier than six days after the judgment has been issued for the landlord. The writ of possession is a court order that directs the constable to remove you from the property and return the property to the landlord. The constable must post a 24-hour notice before executing the writ and removing your property from the rental unit.
In some cases, your landlord may not want to wait for the appeal period to pass. If so, they can ask for immediate possession but they must notify you of this request. This often happens if tenants are engaging in illegal activity or causing damage or a nuisance. If you fail to respond or appear at the hearing, you have seven days from the date you received the notice of the landlord’s request for immediate possession to move out. If the court approves and grants the landlord's request for immediate possession, the court issues the writ of possession before the hearing.
If the court rules in the landlord’s favor, you can file an appeal, but you must do so within five days of when the judgment is signed by the judicial officer. An appeal halts the eviction process. If you lose at the hearing or fail to appear and the court awards your landlord a default judgment, you have five days to appeal and are permitted to stay on the property while the appeal is pending.
You still must pay rent if the eviction is for nonpayment of rent. You can do this with a bond or cash deposit. A bond is a promise to pay the judgment if you lose the appeal. If the eviction is for nonpayment of rent and you file a bond instead of a cash deposit, you must also pay one rental period’s rent into the court’s registry within five days. The appeal will also require you to pay a filing fee.
If you can’t afford the bond or a cash deposit, you can file an Affidavit of Inability to Pay. This is also known as a Sworn Statement of Inability to Pay. You can get these forms from the Texas Justice Court. If you appeal with an affidavit, you’re not responsible for County Court filing fees.
Practical Tips for Tenants Facing Eviction in Texas
If you need legal assistance, a tenant's rights attorney experienced in landlord-tenant law can offer legal advice if you’re facing eviction. There are also some rent payment options that can help you delay the eviction process and extend your stay on the rental property.
If your landlord goes through with the eviction case, gather any evidence supporting any affirmative defenses or counterclaims that you can make against your landlord. This includes written documentation, photographs, videos, and anything else that will support your claims about the property's condition and the landlord’s failure to meet its obligations under the lease and Texas law. You can even ask a county or municipal building inspector to visit the property and make an official report about its condition.
If you can’t appear in court for any scheduled court appearance, contact the court and request a continuance. If you don’t, the court will likely issue a default judgment against you.
Try to maintain a good relationship and stay in communication with your landlord. If issues arise with your tenancy, having a good relationship with your landlord may help you negotiate an agreement and avoid eviction. It’s important to avoid having an eviction lawsuit filed against you. These lawsuits go on your rental history and can make it harder to rent in the future.
If your landlord initiates an eviction, try to negotiate a settlement to pay the delinquent rent and remain in the property or one that allows you to move out in a reasonable time. Always make sure that any agreement with your landlord is in writing and signed by your landlord.
Tenant Resources in Texas
The following nonprofit and governmental organizations in the state of Texas provide free resources to Texas renters. Some provide information on rental assistance programs and utility assistance.
Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid has a useful Guide to Eviction.
Texas Law Help has information on eviction and landlord issues.
Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas is a legal aid nonprofit that helps low-income residents with evictions and other civil matters.
Stop Tx Eviction helps renters understand their rights.
State Bar of Texas has landlord-tenant resources.
Houston Bar Association has an eviction help page for renters.
COVID-19 Pandemic Assistance Programs & Resources
On August 26, 2021, the CDC Federal Eviction Moratorium that was implemented as a result of the coronavirus pandemic ended by order of the Supreme Court. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Texas Supreme Court, the Texas Office of Court Administration, and the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) formed a partnership to help Texans stay in their homes and provide landlords with an alternative to eviction — the Texas Eviction Diversion Program (TEDP). The TEDP is an assistance program that uses a special court procedure that permits courts to delay eviction lawsuits and redirect them to the TEDP.
Here are some links to COVID-19-specific information to help tenants in Texas.