The information in this page is provided as a free resource for renters in Houston. It is not legal advice. If you need legal advice or additional legal help, contact Lone Star Legal Aid.

Does Houston have “rent control?”

Rent is not regulated in Houston. That means landlords in Houston can charge whatever price they think is appropriate. Houston can create rules to control rent prices if there’s a housing emergency caused by a disaster. This can only happen if the local government passes a law, and the governor of Texas agrees to it. The decision to keep or stop these rent control rules will be made in a way similar to how the governor decides to continue or end a state of disaster.

What does it mean to have a “safe, habitable” place to live in Houston?

Landlords in Houston have to repair problems that seriously endanger health or safety if the renter tells the landlord about them. But the landlord only has to do this if the renter is current on their rent.

Windows and Doors

Landlords in Texas must provide Secure locks on all doors and windows, including a keyless bolting device. See ATC’s brochure, Locks and Other Security Devices, for a complete list of security devices required by law.

Heat and Air Conditioning

Texas Property Code (section 92.052) requires landlords to make repairs when an issue “materially affects the physical health or safety of an ordinary tenant” and if the tenant has notified the landlord about the issue. But if the tenant owes rent, then the landlord is not required to make the repairs. Heat and air conditioning aren’t specifically mentioned, but a lack of heat or air conditioning may affect tenant health and safety.

Hot Water

For tenants living anywhere in Texas, the landlord must provide hot water at a minimum temperature of 120° Fahrenheit. A landlord should make a diligent effort to repair or remedy any problems if those problems are caused by the landlord’s failure to provide and maintain in a water heater or other device that supplies hot water.

Utility Services

Landlords can’t interrupt electric service if any of the following are true:

  • The landlord or their representative isn’t available to collect electric bill payments to reestablish electric service.
  • The previous day’s highest temperature was below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and the temperature is predicted to remain at or below that level for the next 24 hours, according to the nearest National Weather Service reports.
  • The National Weather Service issues a heat advisory for the apartment’s county on one of the two preceding days.

There are two exceptions to this rule:

  1. The tenant requests disconnection, OR
  2. The electricity is creating dangerous conditions and needs to be shut off for safety reasons.

Does my landlord have to provide smoke detectors or carbon monoxide detectors in Houston?

Landlords in Texas must provide smoke detectors.

How long does my landlord have to fix problems at my apartment in Houston?

That depends on how severe the problem is. Houston landlords must make a diligent effort to repair a problems that “materially affects the physical health or safety of an ordinary tenant.” They’re not required to make other repairs.

Before a landlord can be required to make a repair, renters must be current on rent. Renters also must give the landlord written notice about issues that need repair, and landlords aren’t required to repair issues caused by the renter or their guests.

When a landlord is required to complete a repair, they must do it in a “reasonable” amount of time. That will vary depending on the date when the landlord received the tenant’s notice, the severity and nature of the problem, and the availability of materials and labor for a repair. If the repair is related to utilities like gas and electricity, the availability of the utility company should be considered. 7 days is usually considered “reasonable.”

What kinds of repairs are considered an emergency?

SixFifty couldn’t find a definition for “emergency repairs” in Texas or Houston law. But Texas law does mention situations that “materially affect the health or safety” of renters. Texas law doesn’t provide a different timeline for landlords to repair these kinds of issues, but it’s easier for renters to escalate repairs of these kinds. They are:

  • The landlord has failed to remedy the backup or overflow of raw sewage inside the rental unit.
  • The landlord has failed to remedy flooding from broken pipes or natural drainage inside the rental unit.
  • The landlord has agreed in the lease to provide drinkable water to the rental unit, and the water service to rental unit has stopped completely.
  • The landlord has agreed in the lease to provide heating or cooling equipment, and the equipment isn’t generating enough heat or cool air. How much is “enough” heat or cool air is decided by a housing, building, or health official and must be in writing.
  • The landlord has been notified in writing by a local housing, building, or health official or other official that an issue in the rental unit materially affects the health or safety of an ordinary renter.

What can I do if my landlord can’t or won’t fix problems at my apartment in Houston?

Repair and Deduct

If a landlord has been notified of an issue that they’re required to repair (see above), and failed to make the repair in a reasonable amount of time (usually 7 days), Houston renters may have the right to pay for repairs themselves and deduct the cost from their next rent payment. The repair must cost less than $500, or one month’s rent, whichever is greater. To use this option, renters must do the following:

  • Tell the landlord, in writing, that an issue needs to be repaired. Deliver this notice to the same address where the renter sends their rent payments.
  • After a reasonable amount of time has passed, usually 7 days, deliver a second written notice. In this notice, renters need to tell the landlord that they plan to pay for repairs and deduct the cost from their rent. Renters must also briefly describe what repairs they plan to pay for.
  • If the issue isn’t related to sewage, water, heating, or cooling, renters should contact a housing, building, or health official. That official can help the renter determine whether the landlord is required to repair the issue, and can notify the landlord in writing. If renter’s aren’t sure who to contact, they can start with the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.
    • PHONE: 832.394.6200
    • EMAIL: hcd@houstontx.gov

In some situations, renters only need to send the first notice. Second notices aren’t required if:

  • The issue materially affects the renter’s health and safety (see above)
  • The written notice is sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, by registered mail, or by another form of mail that allows tracking of delivery from the United States Postal Service or a private delivery service.
  • The landlord had a reasonable amount of time to make the repair (usually 7 days), but has not made a diligent effort to repair the issue.

Repairs must be made by a company, contractor, or repairman listed in the yellow pages or business pages of the telephone directory or in the classified advertising section of a local newspaper. Repairs may not be made by the renter, the renter’s immediate family, the renter’s employer or employees, or a company in which the tenant has an interest.

Repairs must also be made in compliance with building codes, including obtaining a building permit when required. After deducting the cost of repairs from the rent payment, renters must pay the remaining rent owed. So if rent is $2000 and the repair costs $1200, the renter still owes $800. The renter must give the landlord the remaining rent owed, and include a copy of the repair bill and the receipt for its payment.

Vacate

If a Houston landlord has been notified of an issue that they’re required to repair, and failed to make the repair in a reasonable amount of time (usually 7 days) renters may have the right to end their lease early and move out. Renters must give their landlord written notice that includes the date they plan to move out. Renters who follow this process are entitled to a refund of the security deposit and a refund of the rent for the remainder of the month after the renter moves out. This partial month rent is called “prorated” rent. If preferred, the renter can deduct the security deposit from the prorated rent. So if rent is $2000/month, and the renter paid a $700 deposit and is moving out on the 15th, they can the landlord $2000 divided by 2, minus $700—or $300 total.

Sue

If a Houston landlord has been notified of an issue that they’re required to repair, and failed to make the repair in a reasonable amount of time (usually 7 days) renters may be able to file a lawsuit in court without an attorney and seek an order for the repair, reduction in the rent, a penalty of $500 plus one month’s rent, damages, and reasonable attorney’s fees (if the renter hires an attorney).

What are the rules for security deposits in Houston, and how do I get my security deposit refunded?

Landlords in Houston have to return security deposits within 30 days of a renter moving out. Landlords can take money out of the refund to cover damages and charges described in the lease agreement, or that were caused by a renter breaking the lease. If a landlord keeps part of a deposit, they have to give the renter a written list of anything they’re not refunding. Landlords can’t deduct for normal wear and tear.

If landlords change during the rental period, the new landlord is responsible for returning the renter’s security deposit. The new landlord has to give a signed statement to the renter stating that they are the new landlord and they’re responsible for the renter’s deposit. The statement has to include the exact dollar amount of the deposit.

What kind of notice does my landlord need to give me in Houston?

Eviction

In Houston, landlords must give renters a written “notice to vacate” before the landlord can file a lawsuit to evict. This notice to vacate must give renters at least three days unless the lease allows for a shorter time. Landlords can deliver the notice several ways:

  • By hand to the renter or anyone in the unit over age 16
  • By mail
  • Posted on the inside of the renter’s front door

The date in the notice to vacate is not the date the renter will be removed.  Landlords must go to court to evict a renter. The notice requirements are different for renters in public or subsidized housing or if the landlord participates in certain federal programs.

Lead

Under the federal Residential Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Act of 1992, landlords must disclose lead-based paint or hazards in properties built before 1978. They are required to provide renters with a lead hazard information pamphlet and include a lead warning statement in the lease. Additionally, landlords must provide a disclosure form with any known lead hazards and records of lead hazard reduction measures.

Entry

Houston landlords should give renters reasonable notice before entering a rental unit, and explain the purpose of the entry. 24 hours is usually considered “reasonable.” But if the lease allows for it, a landlord in Houston can enter a rental unit without any advance notice.

Can I end my lease early in Houston?

If something comes up in your life, you may find that you need to end your lease early. This can be stressful and very expensive, with most leases including steep penalties and fines for early termination. Here are some potential options.

Military

If you’re active military, you may be able to terminate your lease early under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The SCRA provides certain protections for active-duty military members, including the right to terminate a lease early if you receive orders for a permanent change of station (PCS) or deployment. To terminate your lease early under the SCRA, you must provide your landlord with written notice and a copy of your orders. The notice must be provided at least 30 days before the date on which you intend to terminate the lease.

Where can I get help if I’m being evicted in Houston?

Lone Star Legal Aid can help with housing issues like evictions, unlawful lockouts, utility shutoffs, and security deposits.

What can I do if my landlord harasses me or discriminates against me in Houston?

The Texas Fair Housing Act protects Houston renters’ right to rent an apartment, buy a home, obtain a mortgage, or purchase homeowners insurance free from discrimination based on Race, Color, National Origin, Religion, Sex, Familial Status, and Disability.

If a landlord enters a rental unit for reasons other than those stated in the lease agreement or does not give notice when required, renters can send a written demand to the landlord requesting that they stop and giving a date by which to stop.

SixFifty can help!

Now that you know your rights as a renter in Houston, what can you do? Take action! SixFifty built HelloLandlord with the University of Arizona and Brigham Young University as a free resource for people who can’t afford legal help. You can use HelloLandlord to:

Tens of thousands of Americans have used HelloLandlord to assert their rights. It only takes 5 minutes to generate a high quality letter—the kind of letter a lawyer would write. And we offer discount codes so you can send your letter by mail, right from your computer.

SixFifty is building more tools to help renters all the time. For more information, email probono@sixfifty.com.

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