Do you own rental properties? If you have rental property in Texas, the Texas Property Code, along with the local municipal code where the property is located, regulate the rights and duties of the landlord and tenant. Generally speaking, it is always better to have a written lease agreement. The agreement should outline any property specific items, such as pool maintenance or HOA regulations, so that both landlord and tenant know exactly what is expected from each other. The lease should always list the term of the agreement, the lease payment amount and how often the payment must be paid. The lease should also list what happens at the end of the lease; does it terminate without notice, or is it automatically renewed for another term. Generally, the lease will dictate the relationship between landlord and tenant and it may not be altered during the life of the tenancy unless both parties agree in writing.

If the landlord believes that the tenant is in breach of the payment obligation in the lease, or any other lease obligation, the written agreement will dictate the next step in the process. If the landlord decides to terminate the lease based on the breach, the landlord must give notice to the tenant. If the tenant is not in default of the lease, the tenant is generally entitled to at least 30 days’ written notice. If the tenant is in default, they are generally only entitled to 3 days’ notice to vacate the premises.

Once proper notice is delivered to the tenant, if the tenant does not move out voluntarily, the landlord will have to file for eviction, which is called a detainer lawsuit. The lawsuit is filed in the justice court, commonly known as the JP court, where the property is located. This is a very quick process, unlike most lawsuits, and can be completed in less than a month, in most cases. The landlord can also include any unpaid rent in the lawsuit. At trial, the landlord has the burden to prove that the tenant is in default and that proper notice was given to the tenant. If the landlord prevails, the tenant will be ordered to vacate the premises within 5 days. If he does not, then the landlord may pay the sheriff a fee to forcibly remove the tenant from the property.

If the tenant appeals the eviction to the County Court, the tenant must put up a surety bond worth at least two times the amount of the past due rent awarded by the justice court. In addition, the tenant must then start paying current rent payments to the court, to be held until the appeal is finalized. If the tenant fails to pay the rent during the pendency of the appeal, landlord may again pay the sheriff to remove the tenant. Once the appeal is finalized, the landlord will generally be awarded possession of the property, plus the past due rent paid to the court, plus attorney fees and court costs.

The justice courts are set up so that a layman may represent themselves without the necessity of hiring an attorney. It is usually beneficial to hire an attorney to help you navigate this new arena, if you have never gone to court before. At the very least, it is advisable to consult with an attorney experienced in the eviction process. At Bailey & Galyen, we have attorneys experienced in the eviction process. In addition, we can draft a lease agreement for you that will make the process simpler and cheaper for the landlord. Give us a call for any assistance.