Office of the Dean of Students          

Landlord Tenant

The Lease - Before You Sign

Is an apartment lease a legal contract?

Yes. If you do not understand something in your lease or if the landlord's explanation appears to be contrary to what you believe the lease means contact this office, a tenant's organization, or a private attorney BEFORE you sign. At the very minimum, be sure that all the blanks are filled in properly and that all options have been chosen.

When signing a lease, look out for and try to negotiate out provisions which:

How can I protect my rights?

If my roommate and I have both signed the lease, can he or she act for me without my consent?

Yes. Be sure that you and your roommates are in agreement on issues regarding your lease. Since you have both signed, one person can speak for all of the roommates, and it is NOT the landlord's responsibility to find out if all of the tenants have discussed and are in agreement on the issue.

How can I be sure that I am picking a good apartment?

Does a landlord have to inform me of the crime rate in the apartment's immediate vicinity?

No. However, while there is no duty for a landlord to be responsible for the safety of the tenants and their property, there is a duty for the landlord to take reasonable and necessary precautions to protect both the property and the tenants from foreseeable harm if promises of safety have been made to the tenant (written are best) or security devices are present but not operational because of negligence on the part of the landlord. You should pay close attention to the type of neighborhood you are considering for your residence. The Austin Police Department's website provides crime statistics for a given geographical area.

Breaking a Lease

Texas law provides two situations in which a tenant may break an otherwise valid lease without penalty:

1) a temporary injunction, ex parte order or protective order is issued against the abuser;
2) a copy of the temporary injunction, ex parte order or protective order is provided to the landlord; and
3) the victim abandons the property.

A victim or the parent/guardian of a victim of sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault or continual sexual abuse of a child may terminate a lease if the assault(s) occurred on the rental premises within six months of the termination date.

Certain notice requirements apply; we recommend you consult our office before attempting to terminate your lease under this these laws. In some situations, a tenant may terminate his/her lease upon entering military service. Termination may also be available to service members who are permanently transferred or deployed for a period of 90 days or more. Again, we recommend you consult our office if you believe this provision may apply to your situation.

Can I otherwise break my lease?

Not without severe financial consequences. However, if the reason for leaving is caused by the landlord's noncompliance with the lease or failure to repair a condition that affects the health or safety of the tenant or a lack of hot water issue, certain steps may be taken which are described in other sections of this handbook.

If I have personal reasons for needing to vacate before the end of the lease, what are all of my alternatives and what penalties might I suffer?

Does my landlord have to make an effort to relet my unit once I have broken the lease?

Yes. Landlords must make a good faith effort to lessen their damages in the event you move out early.

Am I liable for the reletting cost if I break the lease?

Yes. Landlords usually charge the full amount indicated in the relet portion of the lease regardless of their actual costs. This amount is normally stipulated to be 85% of one month's rent. However, it is arguable that such charges are legally enforceable only to the extent of actual costs which the landlord can prove that s/he has incurred (cost of advertising, leasing fee to a realtor, cost of preparing a new lease, etc.).

What other monetary damages could I be responsible for?

The tenant will be responsible for repair of any damage and cleaning of conditions caused by the tenant beyond ordinary wear and tear. If your landlord knows that you are planning to move out early, and if your lease allows, the landlord can immediately demand full payment of the rent for the remainder of your lease term without any notice to you, and initiate a landlord's lien. (The TAA lease allows for all of this).

If I break my lease, what will happen to my security deposit?

Your security deposit will not be refunded, but it will be credited against the amount that the landlord determines that you owe.

What is a landlord's lien and when can it be used against me?

Normally allowed by the lease, a landlord can seize certain non-exempt property roughly equivalent in value to the amount of rent you owe, and can hold the property until you pay the amount owed or sell the property at an auction and apply the proceeds to your debt. The lien can also be used if the lease rent has been accelerated because of a tenant default.

Some of the property which cannot be seized under this lien are:

If the landlord does not seize my property, what is likely to happen if I do not pay the damages s/he claims?

A landlord can report the debt to a credit reporting agency and it will show up as an outstanding debt on your credit history. When you apply for a loan or a credit card, and a creditor requests your credit history, the landlord's report of the debt may cause your loan or credit card application to be denied.

Also, a landlord can sue you. If the landlord wins the lawsuit, a judgment will be entered against you, and it may show up on your credit history if it goes unpaid. Texas law provides certain protection to judgment debtors. Homesteads and certain personal property (valued up to $30,000 if the debtor is single or $60,000 if married) are exempt and cannot be seized or sold by forced sale to pay off the judgment. Note that neither cash nor money on account in financial institutions is exempt and these can be seized by means of a lawsuit from the creditor against your bank account. If you are sued, or if a judgment is taken against you, consult an attorney.

Renter's Insurance

Do I need renter's insurance?

Yes. Many tenants assume that the landlord will cover any losses that occur from events not caused by the tenants -- such as fire or floods. However, for the landlord to be liable, the landlord either would have had to know or should have known about the problem, and then either failed to repair it or repaired it with poor workmanship.

If you have renter's insurance, your insurance company will issue a check to cover the loss and then possibly proceed against the responsible party. Renter's insurance is not very expensive and covers loss of property when something you own is stolen or destroyed by fire, water, or other casualty loss. You can get insurance that will reimburse you for either the "fair market value" or the "replacement cost" of the lost or damaged property.

Repair Problems

When does a landlord have to make repairs to my apartment?

The Texas Property Code requires landlords to fix any problem that affects the health or safety of "an ordinary tenant" or if there is a lack of hot water issue. Your lease may increase the landlord's responsibility to repair a wider range of conditions. Be sure to check your lease. The Texas Property Code has five basic requirements tenants must meet to use the law:

If I discover mold in my apartment, can I break the lease?

Probably not. There are no specific state or local health regulations that offer you a remedy if mold is discovered in your residence. However, if you can prove through medical or other scientific documentation that you have, or could develop, a materially adverse health condition that derives primarily from mold growth, you may be able to insist upon the removal of the mold under the health provision of the repair requirements in your lease. You should consult an attorney before trying to terminate your lease in this situation.

If I meet all five requirements above, what remedies are available to me?

There are other requirements for making the repairs yourself, so be sure to check with our office, a tenant organization, or a private attorney before pursuing the repair and deduct remedy.

Security Deposit

Under what conditions should my security deposit be returned?

If a tenant does not do any damage and fulfills her/his obligations, her/his deposit should be returned. To get your deposit back, you should:

When does a landlord have to return my security deposit?

A landlord is obligated to return your security deposit and/or give you a written itemized list of deductions for repairs and cleaning within 30 days after you move out or give the landlord written notice of your forwarding address (whichever is later).

What damages may I collect if s/he does not return the deposit on time?

If the landlord refuses to return your deposit or if you do not agree with the deductions, you can sue for your deposit. If the landlord keeps the deposit in bad faith, you can sue for three times the amount of the deposit wrongfully withheld, plus $100, attorney's fees, and court costs.

How can I help ensure the return of my deposit?



When may a landlord ask me to move out?

If the tenant -

If the landlord wants to evict me, what procedures must be followed?

Is it legal for a landlord to evict me by changing the locks?

No. The landlord is allowed, however, to change the locks if you are behind on your rent, as long as s/he leaves a note on the door stating where you can get a copy of the key, 24 hours a day. If the landlord locks you out and refuses to give you a key, you can file a lawsuit with the Justice of the Peace for re-entry, the greater of one month's rent or $500, actual damages, attorney's fees, and court costs, less any money you owe the landlord.


What if the property I'm renting is foreclosed upon?

The Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act requires the immediate successor in interest at foreclosure to 1) provide tenants with 90 days notice prior to eviction; and 2) allow tenants with leases to occupy the property until the end of the lease term, except the lease can be terminated on 90 days notice if the unit is sold to a purchaser who will occupy the property.


DISCLAIMER: The following post script is intended to be HUMOROUS list of comments the Legal Services for Students office has heard from our clients. It is intended to be instructional in advising students what NOT to do with respect to landlords. IT IS NOT TO BE TAKEN OR INTERPRETED AS LEGAL ADVICE.

Twelve Truisms in Landlord/Tenant Law or What "Everyone" Knows: