02. Real Estate
Tenant & Housing Rights
Required Landlord Disclosures in Texas
Under Texas law, landlords must disclose specific information to tenants (usually in the lease or rental agreement), such as the identity of anyone authorized to act on the landlord's behalf and the tenant's rights when the landlord fails to make necessary repairs.
Texas Security Deposit Limit and Return
Texas state law does not limit how much a landlord can charge for a security deposit. However, landlords must return security deposits within 30 days of the tenant's departure. Landlords who retain some or all of the deposit to cover damage and unpaid rent must provide an itemized, written accounting. (Tex. Prop. Code Ann. § 92.104.) Texas law specifically requires landlords to "keep accurate records of all security deposits," but doesn't elaborate on what that means. (Tex. Prop. Code Ann. § 92.106.) For more information, see Texas Security Deposit Limits and Deadlines and review Texas' security deposit laws codified in the Texas Property Code, sections 92.101 through 92.110.
Texas Late Fees and Other Rent Rules
State law regulates several rent-related issues, including late fees and how much time (three days in Texas) a tenant who has not paid rent has to move.
Tenant Rights to Withhold Rent in Texas
Tenants may withhold rent or exercise the right to "repair and deduct" if a landlord fails to take care of important repairs, such as a broken heater.
Texas Termination and Eviction Rules
State laws specify when and how a landlord may terminate a tenancy. For example, a landlord may give a Texas tenant who has failed to pay rent an unconditional quit notice that gives the tenant three days (the lease may specify a different amount of time) to move out before the landlord can file for eviction.
Landlord Access to Rental Property, Tenant Protection Against Retaliation, and Other State Laws in Texas
Several other landlord-tenant laws in Texas affect both property owners and renters, including:
tenant protections against landlord retaliation for exercising a legal right, such as complaining about an unsafe living condition, special protections for tenants who are victims of domestic violence, procedures for how landlords must handle abandoned property left behind by tenants, and fair housing rights (discrimination is also prohibited by federal and, often, local law).
Federal Landlord-Tenant Laws and Regulations
While most landlords and tenants will primarily be concerned with state law in Texas, several federal laws come into play. Congress has enacted laws, and federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have adopted regulations, covering discrimination and landlord responsibilities to disclose environmental health hazards, such as lead-based paint.
The U.S. Code is the starting place for most federal statutory research. It consists of 54 separate numbered titles, each covering a specific subject matter. Most federal regulations are published in the Code of Federal Regulations ("CFR"), which is organized by subject into 50 separate titles.
The Cornell Legal Information Institute provides the entire U.S. Code as well as the Code of Federal Regulations. Finally, check USA.gov, the official U.S. website for government information.
Construction & Real Estate
The new home construction market in Texas has experienced a significant increase over the past several years, resulting in new neighborhoods popping up all over our great State. While this has been a great boost for our economy, it has also resulted in buyers being dissatisfied with their home after they moved in. These construction defects vary from improper installation, poor workmanship, improper materials to significant problems that will require expensive repairs and remodeling.
Suing a developer is different from filing a small lawsuit against a home contractor, for example, which can often be handled without an attorney in Texas's Small Claims Court. This type of action is ideal for a small dispute with a painter who, for example, fails to complete a specific task. A lawsuit against a developer is a larger project, one that generally requires an attorney's assistance.
Claims of Breach of Contract Against a Texas Builder
Ultimately, your lawsuit against your developer is about its breach of a promise: to deliver you a home as it was designed and described to you. Buying a newly constructed house is a process that generates lots of paperwork, particularly if the house is within a new planned community. Your builder or developer in all likelihood gave you extensive materials describing your new property. You (and the builder) would have needed to sign a written contract outlining your payment and the builder's promise to construct the home.
If you end up having to file a lawsuit against your Texas builder, part of your claim will be that it breached this agreement – did not give you what it promised it would. Here, all of the materials the builder gave you, including photos, descriptions of the home inside and out, plans and drawings, and emails describing the work, will be useful to establishing your expectations at the time you entered into the contract.
For example, if the various documents clearly show that you thought you were getting a home with a stucco exterior, and the finished exterior is cheap vinyl siding, this demonstrates the builder's breach.
One law you'll need to watch out for, however, is Texas's a four-year statute of limitations for breach of contract, under Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 16.004(a)(3). This means that claims based on a contract with the builder must be brought within this period, or they are barred.
However, discovery of the defect can toll (delay) the limitation period in some situations. When a homeowner could not have reasonably discovered the existence of the breach until after the three-year period – for example, if the lights go out after four years because the builder used low-quality wiring and the homeowner couldn't have reasonably known about it (especially likely, with wires being hidden behind walls) – a court might allow the action to proceed.
Claims of Negligence Against a Texas Builder
Breach of contract isn't the only basis upon which you might sue your homebuilder. Another useful legal theory is that of ordinary negligence. In this context, the relevant negligence would be the builder's failure to exercise the correct standard of care in building your home.
To establish a claim for home-construction negligence in Texas, the person filing suit must establish that 1) a particular duty was imposed on the builder or developer by law; 2) the builder failed to conform to that legally imposed standard; 3) there was a causal link between the failure to meet the standard of care and the resulting construction defect; and 4) you suffered actual economic damages as a result of the injury to your Texas home.
Note that Texas has a two-year statute of limitations (a deadline on when you can file suit) for property damage caused by negligence under Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 16.003(a).
Beware of the Statute of Repose in Texas
Under Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 16.008, a homeowner has a maximum of six years from written acceptance or actual occupancy for design or construction of improvement to real property.
This means that even if you can extend the three-year statutes of limitations on breach of contract or negligence through the doctrine of discovery – that is, when you reasonably could have discovered the problem with your home – six years is the "ultimate" limit. As a homeowner, therefore, you must be diligent in discovering any potential defects.
Check Your Contract for Mediation, Arbitration, and Shortened Claim Periods
You and your attorney should carefully read the language of your sales contract. There are a few clauses to watch out for before filing your lawsuit. First, it is common in construction contracts in Texas and elsewhere to find a dispute resolution clause.
A dispute resolution clause may say that you were required to go to mediation with your builder or developer before filing your lawsuit. In this context, mediation is a facilitated negotiation for settlement, led by a third-party neutral individual. Often, that individual will have some relevant experience, most likely with construction law, engineering, or building development.
Your contract may also contain an arbitration clause. This clause would require that you go to arbitration against the builder or developer instead of litigation in a court of law. In arbitration, either one or three individuals – again, typically with experience in construction – will render a final determination on your dispute. The advantage of arbitration is that it is typically quicker than litigation, saving you money on legal fees. A potential disadvantage, however, is that the arbitrator's decisions generally cannot be appealed.
Finally, take note of any aspects of the contract that shorten your statute of limitations or ability to make claims. It is not uncommon that construction contracts will shorten the amount of time that you have in which to file a legal claim against your builder.
An attorney with experience in construction defect litigation in Texas will be able to carefully review the document for these sorts of limitations and help strategize how to best seek compensation from your builder or developer.