Landlord Seizure of Property
Authored By: Texas RioGrande Legal Aid
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Under Texas law, a landlord cannot seize any of your property for delinquent rent unless you have a written lease that allows such action (enforcing a landlord lien) and that section is underlined or in conspicuous bold print. Also, the landlord cannot breach the peace when taking your property, which means that the landlord cannot take you property if you are present and refuse to let the landlord take your property. This is why, of course, that a landlord will usually attempt to enforce a landlord lien while you are gone from the residence. [Note: Texas law prohibits low-income tax credit properties, or apartments that receive federal tax credits (a federal subsidy), to take your possessions or threaten to take your possessions. For a list of low-income tax credit properties in Texas, go to the website of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs at http://www.tdhca.state.tx.us/multifamily/htc/index.htm.]
After removing the property, your landlord must leave written notice of entry in the rental premises and an itemized list of the items removed. The notice must state the amount of the delinquent rent and the name, address, and phone number of the person to contact concerning the amount owed. The notice must state that the property will be promptly returned upon full payment of the past-due rent. The landlord also cannot sell or dispose of the property unless this is written in the lease. However, the landlord is allowed to remove all the contents of an apartment or house, without a specific lease provision, when a tenant has abandoned the premises.
There is no specific limit on the amount of non-exempt property the landlord can take. Nevertheless, if the landlord takes property (valued at market prices) worth significantly more than the rent owed, you may have a claim for wrongful seizure. The landlord also cannot take property for a charge other than rent. Government-owned or government-subsidized housing programs generally forbid landlord's liens.
The following types of property are exempt and cannot be taken by the landlord under any circumstance, unless the property was abandoned:
2. Tools, equipment, and books of the tenant's trade.
3. School books.
4. One automobile and one truck.
5. Family portraits and pictures, and the family library.
6. One couch, two living room chairs, one dining table and chairs.
7. All beds and bedding.
8. All kitchen furniture and utensils, including a tenant's deep-freeze and microwave.
9. Food and foodstuffs.
10. Medicine and medical supplies.
11. Anything the landlord knows belongs to someone else not living in the leased premises.
12. Anything the landlord knows was purchased on a recorded credit arrangement that has not yet been paid for.
13. All agricultural implements.
14. Children's toys not used by adults.
The landlord must give you at least 30 days advance notice of the sale of the property by certified and regular mail to your last known mailing address; indicate the time, date, and place of the sale; and provide an itemized account of the rent owed and the name of the person to contact for information. You are allowed to redeem the property prior to the sale if you pay the rent owed, and the reasonable packing, moving and storage charges (if these charges are also specified in the lease). At the sale, the property is sold to the highest cash bidder. It is usually a good idea to go to the sale to make sure it is done properly. You are allowed to go to the sale and purchase your own property. The landlord must take the money she receives from the sale and apply it to the rental account. As the tenant you are entitled to any remainder. The landlord must give you an accounting within 30 days of your request.
If the landlord willfully violates this law, you may recover the greater of one month's rent or $500, return of any property not sold or proceeds from the sale, plus actual damages, and reasonable attorney's fees, less any past due rent. If the value of your damages is less than $10,000, you may want to file a small claims lawsuit against your landlord in Justice of the Peace (J.P.) court. You do not have to have a lawyer to sue in small claims court. You should contact your local J.P. court for more information about this option. Please be aware that if you sue your landlord in court, your landlord is likely to file a counterclaim against you for any unpaid rent or other charges. After a hearing, the J.P. will decide who owes whom, and how much is owed. You have a two-year deadline within which to file a lawsuit against the landlord who took your property.