Texas Real Estate and Property Laws

Texas Real Estate and Property Laws are complex but they protect the renter at most turns. Let's walk through the different aspects of the law and make sure you are informed about your rights when it comes to renting, buying, subletting and everything in between.

Table of Contents

Tenant and Landlord Relationships in Texas

The relationship between a tenant and a landlord in Texas is pivotal, often guided by a rental agreement, which can be either oral or written. However, having a written lease is beneficial to ensure both parties know their rights and responsibilities. Before signing, tenants should carefully review the lease, and any desired changes should be discussed and initialed by both parties. For instance, while many standard leases prohibit pets, landlords might allow them for an additional security deposit.

Rights of Tenants

If you’re a tenant in Texas, you enjoy quite a bit of protection. According to the Texas Attorney General, you have the right to the following.

  1. Right to Quiet Enjoyment: According to Texas law, tenants have the right to “quiet enjoyment”. This means that once a property is rented, a tenant should be able to use and enjoy the property peacefully. Landlords can’t evict without cause or take any actions that significantly disturb this right. Should other tenants disrupt this peace, it’s the landlord’s responsibility, upon receiving a complaint, to address the issue. However, it’s also the tenant’s duty not to disturb others.
  2. Right to a Habitable Property: Tenants can demand repairs for any conditions affecting their physical health or safety. For instance, landlords are legally obligated to provide smoke detectors, which tenants cannot disconnect or disable. Similarly, properties must install specific security devices, like window latches and deadbolts on exterior doors. If these are missing or faulty, tenants can request their installation or repair.
  3. Security Deposit Rights: Texas law stipulates landlords cannot withhold security deposits without a valid reason. Deductions can be made for abnormal damages but not for everyday wear and tear. If a part or all of the deposit is withheld, landlords must provide an itemized list of deductions. Providing a forwarding address to the landlord is crucial as the returned deposit or an explanation for deductions must arrive within 30 days of moving out.
  4. Notice Requirements for Rent Increase: While the Attorney General’s statement does not explicitly mention the notice requirements for rent increase, typically, these would be outlined in the rental agreement. Tenants need to be familiar with these terms to avoid unexpected expenses.
  5. Right to Withhold Rent Under Specific Circumstances: Texas law emphasizes that tenants do not have the right to withhold rent just because the landlord hasn’t made certain repairs, especially if those conditions don’t materially affect their health or safety. Doing so might lead the landlord to file a suit against the tenant.

Rights of Landlords

Landlords also have rights. The system wouldn’t work otherwise. Those rights include:

  1. Right to Timely Rent Payment: While not explicitly stated, it’s a basic understanding and typically outlined in rental agreements that tenants must pay rent timely. Delays or failures in rent payment can be grounds for eviction.
  2. Eviction Rights and Processes: Landlords have the right to evict tenants under specific circumstances, like failure to pay rent or intentional property damage. However, retaliation against tenants for valid complaints about necessary repairs is illegal for six months from the complaint date. Landlords must follow the correct eviction process to avoid legal repercussions.
  3. Right to Inspect the Property with Proper Notice: Although not detailed in the Attorney General’s statement, landlords typically have the right to inspect their property, provided they give tenants proper notice, ensuring no undue invasion of the tenant’s privacy.
  4. Repairs and Maintenance Responsibilities: Landlords ensure the property is habitable. This includes addressing any issues affecting a tenant’s physical health or safety. However, landlords are not obligated to repair damages caused by tenants, their guests, or household members unless it’s due to “normal wear and tear”.

Property Tax Laws in Texas

Property taxes in Texas are a critical revenue source for local governments, supporting public services like schools, roads, and emergency services. These taxes are levied on both real and personal property. Collecting property taxes falls on individual counties, with no state-level property tax. Each year, local taxing units determine their budgets and set tax rates to meet those budgets.

How Property Taxes Are Calculated

The property tax you owe in Texas is based on the assessed value of your property. Here’s a basic breakdown of the process:

  1. Property Appraisal: A local Central Appraisal District (CAD) determines the value of all taxable property within the district.
  2. Setting of Tax Rates: Local taxing units, such as school districts, cities, and counties, will decide on a tax rate, typically expressed as a rate per $100 of property value.
  3. Tax Calculation: The property’s appraised value (minus any exemptions) is multiplied by the tax rate to determine the amount of tax owed.

For example, if a home is valued at $200,000 and the combined tax rate of all local taxing units is 2.5%, the annual property tax would be $5,000.

Property Tax Exemptions

Several exemptions can reduce the taxable value of properties in Texas:

  1. Homestead Exemption: Homeowners can claim this exemption on their primary residence. This can include a portion or a percentage of the home value, reducing the overall taxable value.
  2. Senior Citizen and Disabled Exemptions: Individuals over 65 or those who are disabled may qualify for additional exemptions. This typically includes a reduction in the taxable value of their property.
  3. Veterans Exemptions: Depending on the degree of disability, veterans might qualify for a partial or complete exemption.
  4. Agricultural and Timber Exemptions: Land designated primarily for agricultural use or timberland can receive special valuations, reducing their taxable value.

It’s essential to apply for these exemptions through the local CAD to ensure they are applied to the property’s tax bill.

Appeals and Disputes: Challenging Your Property Tax Assessment

If a property owner disagrees with the assessed value of their property, they have the right to protest the valuation. The first step is to file a notice of protest with the local CAD. Following this:

  1. An informal meeting with a CAD representative might resolve the issue.
  2. A formal hearing before the Appraisal Review Board (ARB) can be scheduled if not resolved.
  3. If the property owner is still dissatisfied with the ARB’s decision, they can take the case to court.

Following specific timelines and guidelines is crucial when challenging a property tax assessment.

Delinquent Property Taxes: Consequences and Solutions

Failing to pay property taxes in Texas by the deadline can have significant consequences:

  1. Penalties and Interest: Unpaid taxes accrue both penalties and interest, increasing the total amount owed.
  2. Lawsuits: Taxing units can file a lawsuit to collect the delinquent taxes if taxes remain unpaid.
  3. Foreclosure: If the lawsuit is successful, the property might be sold at auction to cover the owed taxes.

To avoid these consequences, property owners can:

  1. Enter into installment payment plans with the taxing unit.
  2. Seek assistance from tax lenders who pay off the owed amount and then set up a repayment plan with the property owner.

Zoning and Land Use Laws in Texas

Zoning regulations play a pivotal role in shaping the development and growth of cities and counties across Texas. They serve as tools to segregate land into specific uses, ensuring a harmonious coexistence of diverse activities and preserving the character of communities. These regulations can dictate everything from the type of buildings that can be constructed on a piece of land, to their size, shape, and purpose.

Common Zoning Classifications

In Texas, like many other places, there are several common zoning categories:

  1. Residential (R): This classification is for areas primarily designed for living. It’s further broken down into categories, like single-family homes (R-1), multi-family homes (R-2), and so on.
  2. Commercial (C): Land zoned as commercial is reserved for business activities. This can include retail, offices, and other service establishments.
  3. Industrial (I): These zones are for manufacturing, warehousing, and sometimes heavy commercial activities.
  4. Agricultural (A): Land zoned for farming or related activities.
  5. Mixed-Use: A newer concept, mixed-use zones allow for a combination of residential, commercial, and sometimes industrial uses in a single area to promote walkability and reduce transportation needs.

Each classification can have further sub-categories and specifications to cater to local needs and visions for growth.

Special Use Permits and Variances

Sometimes a proposed use of land doesn’t fit neatly into established zoning categories. In such cases:

  1. Special Use Permits (SUPs): These allow property owners to use their land in a way not typically permitted by the standard zoning regulations. For instance, a church in a residential zone might require an SUP.
  2. Variances: When a property owner faces undue hardship because of the strict application of a zoning ordinance, they might request a variance. This doesn’t change the zoning itself but allows for minor deviations from the rules, such as building closer to a property line than normally allowed.

Land Use Regulations and Development Standards

Apart from zoning, land use regulations address the specifics of development:

  1. Density Controls: These regulate the number of structures or units on a particular piece of land.
  2. Setback Requirements: They define how far a structure must be set back from streets, rivers, or property lines.
  3. Height Restrictions: These determine how tall a building can be.
  4. Parking and Landscaping Requirements: These ensure adequate parking and green spaces in developments.

Such regulations ensure that even within a specific zoning classification, development proceeds in an orderly and sustainable manner.

Disputes and Appeals: Challenging a Zoning Decision

Not everyone agrees with zoning decisions, and Texas law provides mechanisms to challenge them:

  1. Board of Adjustment (BOA): This is often the first step in the appeals process. The BOA can hear requests for variances and can make decisions on disputes related to the application of zoning ordinances.
  2. Judicial Appeals: If a party is dissatisfied with the decision of the BOA or another local body, they can take the matter to court. This is a more complex and potentially expensive route, but it’s available when needed.
  3. Public Participation: Texas law requires public notice and hearings before major zoning changes. This gives residents a chance to voice their opinions and concerns.

Texas Homeowner Association (HOA) Regulations

Homeowner Associations (HOAs) are common in many Texas neighborhoods, especially in master-planned communities and condominium complexes. These organizations exist primarily to maintain and enhance property values within the community by enforcing neighborhood covenants and managing shared resources and amenities. In Texas, HOAs are governed by a combination of state laws, notably the Texas Property Code, and the individual governing documents established by each HOA.

Roles and Responsibilities of the HOA Board

The HOA board, usually comprised of elected homeowners from within the community, plays a central role in the functioning of the HOA:

  1. Governance: The board enforces the HOA’s governing documents and makes decisions on behalf of the community.
  2. Financial Management: This includes setting the budget, determining HOA fees, and overseeing the association’s finances.
  3. Maintenance and Repairs: The board is responsible for maintaining and repairing common areas such as parks, swimming pools, and clubhouses.
  4. Rule Creation and Enforcement: While major decisions often require homeowner approval, the board can create and enforce rules within the parameters of the HOA’s governing documents.

HOA Fees and Assessments: What Homeowners Need to Know

  1. Dues: Homeowners typically pay regular dues, often monthly or annually, to fund the HOA’s operations.
  2. Special Assessments: If a major expense arises that wasn’t budgeted for, the HOA might levy a special assessment on homeowners.
  3. Usage Fees: Some amenities, like golf courses or event spaces, might require additional fees.
  4. Penalties: Late payment or non-payment of dues can result in penalties, and in extreme cases, liens against the property.

In Texas, HOAs have specific procedures they must follow when imposing fees and assessments, and there are limits to how much they can charge and how often they can increase dues.

Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs): Key Provisions

CC&Rs form the backbone of HOA governance. They outline the rules homeowners agree to abide by when they purchase property within the HOA. Common provisions in CC&Rs include:

  1. Architectural Controls: Restrictions on property modifications and requirements for obtaining approval before making changes.
  2. Land Use: Definitions of acceptable property uses and prohibitions, like operating a business from a home or parking RVs.
  3. Maintenance Standards: Requirements related to lawn care, exterior paint colors, and other aesthetic concerns.
  4. Pet Restrictions: Rules regarding types, sizes, and numbers of pets.
  5. Dispute Resolution: Procedures for resolving disagreements between homeowners or between a homeowner and the HOA.

Resolving Disputes with the HOA

Disputes can arise between homeowners and their HOAs for a myriad of reasons. Texas law and the HOA’s governing documents typically provide mechanisms for resolution:

  1. Internal Resolution: Many HOAs have internal procedures for hearing grievances. This is often the first step in resolving a conflict.
  2. Mediation: Neutral third parties can help facilitate solutions without resorting to legal action.
  3. Litigation: If other methods fail, homeowners might consider taking legal action against the HOA. This can be costly and time-consuming, so it’s generally seen as a last resort.
  4. State Oversight: In some situations, homeowners can file complaints with state agencies if they believe an HOA is violating Texas law.

Eviction Laws and Process in Texas

In Texas, eviction is the legal process that a landlord uses to remove a tenant from a rental property. Landlords and tenants need to understand the state’s eviction laws to ensure that evictions are carried out fairly and justly. Texas law clearly states that a landlord cannot forcibly remove a tenant without obtaining a court order.

Valid Reasons for Eviction

A landlord may have several valid reasons to evict a tenant under Texas law:

  1. Non-payment of Rent: This is the most common reason for eviction. If a tenant fails to pay rent when it’s due, a landlord can begin eviction proceedings.
  2. Violation of Lease Terms: Breaking any terms or conditions specified in the lease can be grounds for eviction. This could range from having unauthorized pets to causing damage beyond normal wear and tear.
  3. Holding Over: If a tenant remains on the property after their lease has expired without the landlord’s agreement, they can be evicted.
  4. Criminal Activity: If a tenant or any guest of the tenant is involved in criminal activity on the leased property, it can be a ground for eviction.

Notice Requirements: Types of Eviction Notices

Before filing for eviction, landlords must first provide the tenant with written notice:

  1. Notice to Vacate: This is typically given if the tenant hasn’t paid rent. The notice usually provides the tenant with three days to pay or leave, though the lease agreement might stipulate a different timeframe.
  2. Cure or Quit Notice: If a tenant violates a term of the lease other than rent payment, a landlord can issue this notice, giving the tenant a set amount of time to remedy the violation or move out.
  3. Unconditional Quit Notice: For serious lease violations or repeated violations, a landlord might use this notice, which doesn’t allow the tenant a chance to remedy the violation – they must simply leave.

The Eviction Lawsuit Process

If a tenant doesn’t comply with the eviction notice, the landlord can then file a forcible entry and detainer suit:

  1. Filing the Suit: The landlord must file the suit in the justice of the peace court in the precinct where the property is located.
  2. Court Hearing: A hearing will be scheduled after the suit is filed. Both the landlord and tenant will have the opportunity to present their case.
  3. Judgment: If the judge rules in favor of the landlord, a writ of possession will be issued, giving the tenant a specific number of days to leave the property. If they don’t, law enforcement will forcibly remove the tenant.

Tenant Defenses to Eviction

Tenants might have defenses available that can halt or delay the eviction process:

  1. Improper Notice: If the landlord did not provide adequate notice or did not follow the proper procedures, the eviction might be invalid.
  2. Rent Payment: If the tenant can prove they did pay the rent, or that the landlord refused to accept it, it can serve as a defense.
  3. Retaliation: A tenant cannot be evicted as retaliation for reporting code violations or requesting necessary repairs.
  4. Discrimination: Federal and state laws prohibit evictions based on race, religion, gender, disability, or family status.