By Rachel Walker
This legislative session, Texas legislators have proposed many bills that could impact tenants. The following are a few bills which address issues that tenants commonly ask us about. For more information on these and other proposed bills, see the Texas Legislature’s website (capitol.texas.gov). We encourage tenants to reach out to community members and state representatives to share their thoughts on how these bills could impact housing rights.
The mere act of having an eviction filed can be permanently damaging to an individual, as it can remain in the public records section of a credit report. Tenants who have had an eviction filed against them commonly have their rental applications rejected due to the eviction filing, even if the judge ruled in their favor. Several bills have been proposed which could limit access to these records.
HB 174, filed by Rep. Canales, would give the court that an eviction was filed in the jurisdiction to expunge, or seal, the eviction record. On the tenant’s request, the court could order all relevant eviction records expunged if the initial filing lacked sufficient basis.
SB 519 would also limit the impact of wrongful eviction filings. Senator Zaffirini’s (D-21) bill would require a court to enter an order of limited dissemination of the eviction case information in certain circumstances, such as if the judgment was in a tenant’s favor or if more than five years had passed since the date of the final judgment. An order of limited dissemination would cause the tenant’s name to be removed from all public records pertaining to the eviction case, and it would prevent credit and tenant screening agencies from using that information.
Under certain circumstances, Texas tenants have a right to vacate their rental unit and avoid liability for future rent following an incident of domestic violence. In order to exercise this right, a tenant must provide one of the following forms of documentation to their landlord: a temporary injunction, a temporary ex parte protective order, or a final protective order. Several bills have been proposed which would allow a tenant to use other forms of documentation to exercise this right.
HB 1209, proposed by Representative Rodriguez (D-51), would expand the list of family violence documentation that a landlord must accept. If this bill passes, survivors of domestic violence will be able to terminate their lease early with an emergency protective order or with documentation from a licensed healthcare or mental health provider. Certain family violence service providers would also be able to provide the necessary documentation.
Similarly, SB 234, proposed by Senator Nelson (R-12), would allow survivors of family violence to terminate their lease early with documentation from a licensed healthcare or mental health provider, or with documentation from certain victim services advocates.
In Texas, there is no law that governs when a landlord can and cannot enter a rental dwelling. Landlord entry is generally established by a tenant’s lease agreement. Many leases state that a landlord can enter a rental dwelling at any reasonable time for any reasonable business purpose. Other leases allow a landlord to enter at any time, but require the landlord to leave a note explaining why they entered the apartment. Sometimes, a rental agreement will require advance notice before the landlord may enter.
HB 1860, proposed by Representative Victoria Neave (D-107), would require a landlord to provide 48-hour written notice prior to entering a rental unit. This notice would need to specify the time and date that the landlord would enter, and it would need to provide the landlord’s purpose for entering. If this bill passes, landlords will still be allowed to enter without notice in emergency situations.
A lease agreement should establish any rental payments that a tenant must make, along with any other sums for which a tenant is liable, such as damages or late fees. If a tenant falls behind on payments, a landlord can start eviction proceedings against a tenant only for nonpayment of rent. However, it is common for a lease agreement to state that a landlord may apply rent payments towards other unpaid obligations, such as late fees, before applying that amount to rent. This can put a tenant behind on rent even if they pay the full rent amount. A landlord could then start the eviction process or continue to charge late fees, decreasing the likelihood that a tenant will pay off their balance.
HB 2457, proposed by Representative Terry Canales (D-40), would end this practice. If passed, this bill would require a landlord to apply any payment received towards rent before applying it towards another amount owed.
A landlord may charge late fees in accordance with the lease agreement. The Texas Property Code states that late fees must be a reasonable estimate of uncertain damages resulting from late payment of rent. Generally, a lease will require an initial late fee and then additional charges that are calculated each day that rent remains unpaid.
Rep. Canales has proposed a bill which would place a cap on the amount that a landlord can charge Section 8 tenants in late fees. HB 175 would allow a landlord to charge a Section 8 tenant only up to 5% of their rent portion in any pay period.