This handbook is designed to assist residential tenants in their search for answers to actual legal problems. A residential tenant is a person who has leased or rented a house, duplex, apartment, or other room for use as a permanent residence or home. This handbook does not address laws concerning boarding houses or motels, or commercial tenancies, although some of the legal concepts contained in this handbook may be applicable. Most of the legal material found in this handbook can be located in sections 24, 54, 91 and 92 of the Texas Property Code, which is available in your local law library and online at http://tlo2.tlc.state.tx.us/statutes/pr.toc.htm. Another good online resource for tenants can be found at http://www.texaslawhelp.org.
Sometimes, the law can only be enforced in court. However, most disputes never reach the court and are settled between the parties. Courteous, professional negotiation is usually the fastest, most efficient solution in any dispute. The law, as interpreted in this handbook, merely sets forth the basic guidelines for negotiation. Often, establish- ing or joining a tenant organization is an attractive option because such organizations encourage landlords to negotiate fairly. Also, a tenant organization may get more attention from the media and local elected officials than individual tenants, and the fear of negative publicity or pressure from these officials can affect a landlord's actions.
WARNING: This handbook is not designed to make the reader an expert in landlord-tenant law, but is merely intended as a guide to the general rights and responsibilities of the tenant and landlord in various situations. If you plan to terminate your lease, withhold rent, repair and deduct, use your deposit for rent, sue your landlord, or take other serious action based on what you have read in the Property Code or this handbook, please consult an attorney or tenant association to ensure all the legal requirements have been met. This handbook does not address every consideration that may be applicable in a given situation. Also, interpretations of statutes routinely change over time. The judgment of a court will also depend on the exact circumstances of the individual case. If you improperly terminate the lease, withhold rent, sue, etc., the landlord may be entitled to collect damages and attorney's fees from you. You also need to be aware of the practical considerations of any action. For example, this handbook indicates the specific instances where you can terminate a lease agreement and move out. Even though you may have correctly terminated your lease, if your landlord does not agree with your decision, she may take action against you (including withholding your deposit and giving a statement to a credit reporting agency). Although the landlord's actions may later be deemed illegal, you may have to go to some trouble to achieve justice. Sometimes, a landlord may try to retaliate against you by refusing to renew your lease, trying to terminate a month-to-month tenancy, or raising your rent. The law specifically provides you with a cause of action for certain kinds of retaliation. See "Retaliation for Requesting Repairs."