When it comes to renting your properties, it seems there’s a million things you need to know. But with so many laws on the books — and with many laws differing by state — there are likely some that you don’t know about. Here are five real estate laws that every Dallas-Fort Worth landlord should know.
All Tenants Have The Right To Be Considered For Your Property
The federal Fair Housing Act was established in 1968 as part of the Civil Rights Act. Since then, it’s been expanded to prevent other types of discrimination and promote economic opportunity.
In the rental market, fair housing means that all people have the right to be considered for your property. Choosing an applicant based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability is strictly not allowed. If you choose applicants (or help your clients choose applicants) based on one of these factors, you’re violating fair housing laws, even if you don’t mean to.
The application process adheres to these laws, so it’s best to stick to details on the application itself. Other information may be deemed discriminatory if you use it to select a tenant.
As an owner, don’t ask your property manager questions about the race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disabilities of the applicants.
As a property manager, help steer owners in the right direction. If they ask specifics about any of these attributes, simply explain that you’re part of an equal opportunity housing company. That means that legally they can’t use that information to choose an applicant. Whether or not they intend to discriminate is irrelevant. Owners make the final decision about tenants, but as a property manager you want to guide them towards an ethical choice.
There Are Times When Tenants Can Legally Break Their Lease
A lease is a legally binding document that states tenants must pay rent for the full lease term, whether they’re occupying the rental unit or not. As a landlord, you might think that means if a tenant terminates a lease early, they’re automatically on the hook for paying the balance in full for the remainder of the lease. But you would be wrong. Under Texas Property Code Chapter 92, there are certain circumstances that allow tenants to legally break their lease early without any further financial obligation.
Circumstances that allow tenants to terminate a lease early without being responsible for paying the remainder of the lease include:
- The tenant or child of the tenant is a victim of sexual assault.
- The tenant or child of the tenant is a victim of stalking.
- The tenant is starting active military duty.
- The rental unit is unsafe, uninhabitable, or violates Texas health codes.
- The landlord harasses the tenant or violates their property rights.
It’s important to know that if and when these circumstances arise with one of your tenants, you’ll need to let them out of their lease immediately.
There’s No Limit on Security Deposits
Security deposits can give landlords peace of mind when they’re on the fence about renting to potential tenants. For example, if you’re considering renting to someone with a questionable credit history, padding their security deposit can help you feel more secure about the transaction.
And in Texas, there’s no limit on security deposits. Texas Property Code Chapter 92.101 to 92.109 outlines the state’s laws regarding security deposits, and landlords can effectively charge whatever they see fit in terms of a security deposit, as long as they follow the written procedures for accepting and refunding it.
Now, clearly, requiring too high of a security deposit will limit your renter pool. But charging a higher security deposit for riskier renters can help to cover your bases in case any damages or financial losses occur.
You Can’t Evict Someone Without Notice
There are situations that may arise with tenants, like violence or refusal to pay rent, that will warrant an eviction. But as much as you may want the tenant off of your property immediately, you can’t force someone to leave your property immediately or evict them without notice.
Under Texas Property Code Chapter 24, landlords cannot legally evict a tenant before giving them written notice. Landlords must serve tenants with a three-day notice to vacate. The tenants then have three days to remove themselves from the property. If the tenant refuses, only then can you proceed with filing for an eviction with the court system.
Even after filing the eviction lawsuit, your tenant has the option to fight it. It’s important to understand the laws surrounding eviction so you’re not caught off guard when you can’t immediately and legally remove the tenant from your property.
You Can’t Deny a Tenant With an Emotional Support Animal (Or Charge a Pet Deposit)
Many landlords have a “no pet” policy on their properties. And if they do allow pets on the property, they often charge additional pet deposits to cover any damages the property incurs as a result of the animal.
But even if you’re anti-pet, when you’re dealing with a tenant who has an emotional support animal, you’ll need to make an exception.
An emotional support animal is an animal that provides therapeutic support to an owner who struggles with a mental illness, like anxiety or depression. Under the Fair Housing Act, landlords must provide “reasonable accommodations” to tenants struggling with a disability, which includes waiving pet deposit fees or allowing an emotional support animal in a unit where pets are not typically allowed.
If you have a tenant with an emotional support animal, you can request a letter from their doctor or mental health professional that states they need the animal to manage the symptoms associated with their mental illness, but you’re not allowed to ask any further questions about the disability, restrict the size or breed of the emotional support animal, or require any additional deposit. You are, however, allowed to hold the tenant responsible for any damage caused by their emotional support animal.
When you’re choosing and renting to tenants, you want to be sure you’re following all housing laws and giving your tenants a fair and legal renting experience. In addition to these laws, make sure that you do your research and that you’re up to speed on relevant real estate laws which may affect you, your tenants, or your rental properties.
(Reminder: This article does not serve as legal advice. Be sure to review Federal and State laws specific to your area for the most accurate information regarding landlord laws.)