Saturday, January 31, 2009

Changing Locks on Residential Tenants in Texas: A Dangerous Business

Texas Property Code Section 92.0081 sets out the procedures for the removal of property and lockouts on residential property. Here are some practical tips:

1. A landlord may not remove a door, window, or attic hatchway cover unless it is done pursuant to a prompt repair of the premises. In other words, you can't just take a door off to "encourage" a tenant to leave. See Texas Property Code Sec. 92.0081(a).

2. If a landlord changes the door lock of a tenant that is delinquent in rent, it must be done according to the procedures set out in Texas Property Code Sec. 92.0081(c). Namely, the landlord must place a notice that (1) states an on site location where the tenant can go 24 hours a day to obtain the new key or a telephone number that is answered 24 hours a day that the tenant may call to have a key delivered within two hours after calling the number; (2) states the fact that the landlord must provide the new key to the tenant at any hour, regardless of whether the tenant pays any of the delinquent rent; and (3) the amount of rent and other charges for which the tenant is delinquent. The landlord must also, prior to changing the locks, send a warning, either mailed five days before the lock change, or hand delivered three days before the lock change, that states the date of the anticipated lock change, the amount of rent owed that must be paid to prevent the lock out, and the name and street address of the individual to whom, or the location of the onsite management office, at which the delinquent rent may be paid during the landlord's normal business hours. The lock change may not occur on a day or day before the landlord is not available or the onsite management office is not open for the tenant to pay the delinquency. The key must be provided to the tenant whether or not the tenant pays the rent. If the tenant doesn't show, the landlord must leave a notice of the day/time they showed up, along with the address for the location of the key during normal business hours. See Texas Property Code Sec. 91.0081(d)-(g).

3. If a residential landlord violates Texas Property Code Sec. 91.0081, the tenant may recover possession of the premises or terminate the lease, and a civil penalty of one month's rent plus $500, actual damages, court costs and reasonable attorney fees, less any delinquent rent or other sums owed to landlord. If the landlord does not allow tenant to use the key to enter the property regardless of paying the rent, the tenant is entitled to one month's rent as a civil penalty.

Thus, residential property lockouts are very risky endeavors and should be done with the consultation of an attorney after reviewing sections of the Texas Property Code.

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