Are you in the process of evicting a tenant or about to start the process? Evictions are fully legal now that the CDC’s eviction moratorium has ended. However, if you’re a property investor in Houston, Texas, eviction lawsuits aren’t always easy to win.
The courts generally favor tenants over landlords, unless there’s strong evidence that a tenant has become a nuisance or has violated their lease. Before serving up an eviction notice, make sure it’s legal. There are certain actions that can make you lose your eviction lawsuit, so be careful not to make the following mistakes.
1. Not serving notices properly
Nothing will get your eviction lawsuit dismissed faster than not serving your notices correctly. While a judge has the right to rule at their discretion, most judges will dismiss an eviction lawsuit when it hasn’t been properly initiated.
For example, if you just drop a notice to vacate on your tenant’s porch, that’s not legal. You must hand-deliver your notice or mail it to your tenant via certified mail. It’s best to do both – hand-deliver the notice and mail a copy so you have a record of receipt.
Another way notices can be served incorrectly is by giving notice too soon. For example, you can’t give a tenant a 3-day notice to vacate for not paying rent before rent is due. You must wait until the day after rent is due in order to serve a 3-day eviction notice.
2. Serving the wrong notice
In Houston, there are two types of notices you can give a tenant: a notice to vacate and an eviction notice. A notice to vacate gives a tenant more time to find a new place to live. Tenants are given time that equals at least the length of the lease. For example, most landlords give tenants 30 days’ notice to vacate.
Texas landlords can give tenants a no-cause notice to vacate, which means you don’t need to provide a reason with this notice. You can simply ask your tenants to move out. If they don’t move out, you can’t file an eviction lawsuit – yet. If your tenants don’t move out after being served a notice to vacate, then you’ll need to serve a proper eviction notice.
An eviction notice can give tenants as little as three days to move out, but the time period will depend on your lease. If your lease doesn’t specify a time period, three days is the default.
3. Not including the right information in your notices
Any notice to vacate is required by law to contain specific information. Each notice must first be in alignment with the lease. Other details that must be included are:
- The full address of the rental property
- The full names of all persons on the lease, including occupants
- The number of days the tenant has to vacate the property
- For a 3-day notice to pay or quit, the details of the payment owed must be included, along with stating the eviction notice will be canceled if the payment is made on time.
Remember that eviction notices must provide the opportunity for the tenant to remedy the problem. There are some exceptions to this, but you’ll need to speak with an attorney to make sure you do it right.
4. Having previous court cases involving your tenant(s)
Anything you’ve said or done in previous court cases can be used against you in your eviction lawsuit. For example, if you filed for a protection order against your tenant for violent behavior and the judge didn’t grant you the order, that will probably come up during your eviction hearing. Your tenant might say your eviction notice is retaliation for not getting the protection order.
Losing a protection order case doesn’t mean the judge believes your tenant. Protection orders are hard to get and the judge might not see a single incident as meeting the requirement for “a preponderance of evidence.” However, if the judge found your tenant to be the more credible witness, that could impact your eviction lawsuit.
5. Cutting off utilities
Texas landlords cannot cut off a tenant’s utilities no matter what. Doing so is a fast way to lose your eviction case. If you go all the way to court, and the judge finds that you cut off utilities, your tenant might win the right to remain in possession of your property.
Don’t cut off any of the following utilities:
Internet is the only utility with wiggle room. However, you can’t just cut it off. If your tenant is month-to-month, you can change the terms of the lease to no longer include internet. However, you’ll need to compensate by lowering the cost of rent. You can’t keep charging full rent that includes services you’ve removed.
If your tenant is abusing the internet or hogging all of the bandwidth to the point where you can’t use your internet, it’s worth changing. However, don’t be petty or punitive. Just file your eviction lawsuit as quickly as possible.
6. Changing the locks
Changing the locks is just as illegal as cutting off a tenant’s utilities. At no point in time are you legally allowed to change the locks on a rental unit until the tenant moves out. If you do change the locks, your tenant could win the eviction lawsuit.
If a judge rules that your tenant has the right to remain in your property, you’ll have a much harder time winning a second eviction lawsuit.
7. Declaring the eviction is for reasons that aren’t legal
If you can get your tenant to comply with a no-cause notice to vacate, that’s your best option. You probably know that employers fire workers without giving a reason to avoid discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuits.
The same liability exists with tenants. The more reasons you give them, the more power you give them to fight your notice.
If your tenant is causing serious problems, you’re in the right to give a reason. In fact, to evict a problem tenant fast, you have to give a reason if you want to win your case. Your reason can be as simple as late or unpaid rent.
As long as your reason is legitimate, substantiated, and legal, you’ll be fine. However, don’t use hearsay or minutia to evict a tenant.
Don’t want to deal with evictions? Green Residential can help!
With our team managing your tenants, you’ll never have to write or serve a notice ever again. We’ll handle everything for you, from communications to delivering notices and filing eviction lawsuits in court.
The best part is that we are always up-to-date with state and local laws in Houston, so we always know when the rules change.