Authored By: Texas RioGrande Legal Aid
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A landlord may only exercise a lock-out if your lease allows your landlord to do so. Even if your landlord locks you out, your landlord must always provide you with a key to re-enter the residence. The tenant lock-out provision of the Texas Property Code is designed only as a way for the landlord to communicate with the tenant, not as a way to permanently exclude you from your residence. In addition, if the landlord does not follow precisely the requirements for conducting a tenant lock-out, the landlord may be liable for damages for violating Texas law.
A landlord may temporarily prevent you from entering your leased premises only when (1) your rent is not completely paid and only if the landlord follows very strict rules and promptly allows you back in the premises; (2) there is an emergency situation and the landlord needs to conduct bona fide repair, or (3) you have abandoned the premises.
When your landlord changes your door locks because you are behind on paying the rent, the landlord must give you advanced written notice of the proposed lock change AND a written notice at the time your locks are changed. The advanced written notice must be mailed no later than the fifth calendar day before the locks are changed or hand-delivered no later than the third calendar day before the locks are changed, and MUST state (1) the earliest day of the proposed lock change, (2) the amount of rent the tenant must pay to prevent the lock-out, (3) the name and street address of where the rent can be paid or the matter can be discussed, and (4) a notice, underlined or bold print, of the tenant's right to receive a key to the new lock at any hour, regardless of whether the tenant pays the delinquent rent.
When your landlord changes your locks, your landlord must also leave a written notice on your front door describing where a new key may be obtained at any hour giving the name and location of the individual who will provide you with the new key. The notice must state that the landlord must provide the key to you at any hour (regardless of whether you pay any of the delinquent rent), and the notice must also state the amount of rent and other charges for which you are delinquent. The new key must be provided to you immediately, regardless of whether you pay the landlord anything, and the notice must give you a telephone number that is answered 24 hours a day that you can call to have a key delivered to you within two hours after calling the number.
These rules apply no matter what the lease agreement says, and even if the landlord is closing down the premises. The landlord CANNOT remove a door, window, lock, doorknob, or any other appliance furnished by the landlord because you are behind on the rent, unless the removal is for repair or replacement (in which case, a lock, doorknob, or door should be repaired or replaced before nightfall).
If the landlord changes the door locks without leaving the required notice or without providing a new key, or removes a door or other item improperly, you may terminate the lease or recover possession of the premises. In either case, you may also file suit to recover actual damages, one month's rent plus $1000, and reasonable attorney's fees and court costs, less any past due rent owed by you as the tenant. If the landlord fails to give you the new key, you are entitled to an additional month's rent. You have two years from the date of the violation to file a lawsuit against your landlord for wrongful lock-out. Your claim is against the landlord (the owner of the property, not the manager, maintenance man, or name of the complex) -- remember, the owner is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the people who work for the owner, and the owner is also the one that will have the money to pay the judgment.
To get back in to your residence, you should contact the landlord, manager, management company, or owner for a new key. If your landlord refuses to give you a key, you can go to the Justice of the Peace Court in your area and request a "writ of reentry," which will order the landlord to provide you with a key to your house or apartment. If the judge approves your request, the court will issue the "writ of reentry." The court will charge a fee for the constable to deliver this order to the landlord. If you cannot afford to pay the filing fee, you may file an Affidavit of Inability to Pay, sometimes called a Pauper's Oath, with information about your income, your property, monthly expenses, dependents, and debts.
As soon as the landlord is served with the "writ of reentry," the landlord must immediately comply with the order. The constable is allowed to use reasonable force in executing a writ of reentry.
Exceptions to Lock-outs:
If you are engaged in military service and your rent does not exceed $1,200 per month, a landlord cannot lock you out unless it obtains permission from a court. Otherwise, the landlord will be in violation of the federal Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act.
Also, an apartment complex that receives tax credits (a federal subsidy) may not lock out or threaten to lock out any tenant unless there is an emergency or to perform bona fide repairs.