By E. Stephanie Hebert, Fort Bliss Legal Assistance Office
A lease contract outlines the respective rights of both the landlord and the tenant. If you are a tenant in Texas, your lease usually authorizes you to make requests for reasonable repairs, seek early termination of the lease in conjunction with military duty, file a good-faith complaint with a governmental entity responsible for enforcing building or utility codes, and exercise other important rights and remedies granted by federal or state law.
Generally, a landlord may not, within six months after you’ve taken action that is permissible under your lease or by statute, retaliate against you by excluding you from the property you leased, decreasing services promised in the lease, increasing your rent, terminating your lease, or engaging, in bad faith, in a course of conduct that materially interferes with your rights under your lease. Here’s an example: If you recently made a request for the repair of the dishwasher in your apartment, and then subsequently received notice that your rent would increase, you might think that your landlord is retaliating against you because of your request for repair - an act that you are legally permitted to take. However, if your landlord was authorized under the lease to increase rent for utilities, the rent increase may be justifiable. If the same utility increase was taken against all residence in your apartment complex, the landlord’s behavior is usually justified, and almost always permitted by the lease itself. Please also note that the landlord will not be found liable for retaliation if the tenant or his family intentionally damages property on the premises, threatens the personal safety of the landlord, fails to pay rent in accordance with the lease, or remains on the premises after the lease is terminated.
If your landlord acts in bad faith, and you prevail in a retaliation claim, you may recover a penalty of one month’s rent plus $500, actual damages, court costs, attorney’s fees, and moving costs. If, however, you were found to have pursued the action in bad faith, the landlord could recover a penalty of one month’s rent plus $500, court costs and attorney’s fees.
What you can you do to resolve conflict with your landlord before the situation gets out of control:
- Read your lease. It’s the primary document that contains the agreement of the landlord and tenant.
- If you haven’t documented all of your communication in writing, do it. Most property management companies require communication through an online portal, so this is not often a problem. However, any in-person and telephone conversations should be memorialized in writing immediately afterward. You can also take detailed notes during these conferences that may be useful later.
- If you are exchanging angry, threatening, disparaging messages with or about your landlord, stop. This only adds fuel to the fire, and it’s rarely constructive. Furthermore, what you write or post on social media can be used against you in the future.
- Ask your landlord if they will agree to mediate your dispute with a third-party mediator.
You can learn more about landlord retaliation in Chapter 92 of the Texas Property Code.
If you would like to speak to an attorney at the Fort Bliss Legal Assistance Office to learn more about your rights, you can request an appointment through our web page anytime at https://home.army.mil/bliss/index.php/my-fort/all-services/staff-judge-advocate/legal-assistance-office. You can also contact us by phone at (915) 568-7141 during hours of operation.