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Landlord Retaliation Against Tenants

This article talks about what to do if a landlord retaliates against a tenant.

What is retaliation?

Retaliation is when your landlord wrongfully acts against you for doing something that you had the right to do. If a landlord ends your lease after you complain about something, for example, this could be retaliation. It is important to know your rights because retaliation is often illegal.

What type of actions are protected from retaliation?

According to Texas Property Code 92.331, a landlord may not retaliate against you for any of the following actions:
 
  • Doing anything that is allowed by your lease or by law.
  • Asking that your landlord repair or fix something.
  • Filing a complaint with a government agency.
  • Taking part in any tenant group.

Note: Actions you take as a tenant must be in good faith. This means that you must be honest. Do not make up a false violation just to get your landlord in trouble.

What can't the landlord do?

After you perform any protected action, such as asking for repairs, Texas Property Code 92.331 kicks in. This statute protects you for six months. During these six months, there is a presumption that the landlord cannot do any of the following: 
  • Evict you.
  • Deny you use of the premises.
  • Decrease any services to you.
  • Increase your rent.
  • End your lease.
  • Interfere with any other rights you may have under the lease.

Presumption: The "presumption" means that a court will assume the law prohibits the landlord from taking these actions unless the landlord shows otherwise.

Are there any exceptions to the six-month protection period?

Yes. If your landlord can prove that they did not retaliate against you, your landlord will not be liable for violating the six-month protection period. Generally, if your landlord is acting according to the terms of the contract, they will not be liable. If your landlord is treating other tenants similarly, your landlord will likely not be liable either. 

For example: Your landlord sends out a notice to the entire apartment complex that rent will increase by $25 next year. This would not be retaliation because your landlord is treating each person the same way.

When does the protection period start?

The protection period starts when you take the action that your landlord does not like. The protection period does not affect anything your landlord has done prior to your action. 

For example: Your landlord notified you one month ago that your lease was not going to be renewed. Two weeks after you received that notice, you file a request for repairs. In this situation, you would not be protected against the landlord ending your lease. This is because your landlord ended your lease before you asked for repairs.

Can I be evicted during the six-month protection period?

Yes. Your landlord can still evict you under certain conditions, including for any reason set out in law or in your lease. For example, your landlord can still evict you for nonpayment of rent, illegal activity, or damaging the property.

Could you give an example of how I could be evicted during the protection period?

Yes. Here is an example: You spot mold in your apartment. You notify your landlord that you want it taken care of. This begins a period of six-months where your landlord cannot retaliate against you. One month later you get a dog, which violates your lease. Your landlord then evicts you for violating your lease. 

In this situation, your landlord could prove that they did not retaliate against you. Instead, your behavior violated the terms of your lease. This lease violation would be a valid reason for your landlord to evict you.

What can I do if my landlord retaliates against me?

Tell them to stop. If your landlord retaliates against you, first try talking to them. Talking may solve the problem without any further issues. You can also use this letter from the Texas Low-Income Housing Information Service to demand that your landlord cease retaliation. This form asks that your landlord stop any further retaliation.

File a lawsuit. If talking does not work, you can consider filing a lawsuit in Justice Court. You can use this form from the Texas Low-Income Housing Information Service to file a lawsuit against retaliation. The form comes with instructions.

Can I get damages if my landlord retaliates illegally?

Yes. If a court decides your landlord has retaliated against you, there may be a penalty. You may be entitled to the following:
  • One month’s rent plus $500.
  • Reasonable costs to move to another place.
  • Attorney’s fees and court costs.
  • Injunctive relief (this prevents a landlord from doing some action, such as increasing rent).

Can I get in trouble for false complaints against my landlord?

Yes. You should be careful not to file a lawsuit based on something that you know is false. Under Texas Property Code 92.334, if you knowingly file a false lawsuit based on a housing code violation, your landlord might be entitled to:
  • Evict you.
  • One month’s rent plus $500. 
  • Attorney’s fees and court costs. 

If an inspector comes to your home and does not find the problem you mentioned in your lawsuit, that can be evidence that you acted in bad faith.

The bottom line: do not file a lawsuit based on something that you know is false. If there is no housing code violation, do not claim that there is one.

I own a manufactured home but I rent the land it sits on. Do I get any protections?

Yes. Texas Property Code 94.251 through 94.255 gives you the same protections against retaliation that you would have if you lived in a traditional rental home. This means that you have the same six-month protection period. You also are entitled to the same compensation if your landlord violates the law. Everything in this article applies to you.

Note: Recreational vehicles are generally not considered homes and may not have the same protections.

Is there anything else I can do to protect myself from landlord retaliation?

Yes. Document and date any actions that you take. Document and date any actions that your landlord takes as well. This can be extremely helpful later on. Being able to point to a specific date when something actually took place will save you a headache in the future. Always make copies for your records and make sure that you date every document as well.

Am I allowed to retaliate against my landlord?

No - even if your landlord is being unreasonable. Never try to take matters into your own hands. At best, it could worsen the situation between you and your landlord. It could also end up with you being evicted and owing fines. 

Try to talk with your landlord first. If that doesn’t work, consider involving the court system by filing a lawsuit.

Can I withhold rent even if my landlord retaliates against me?

No. Withholding rent is almost always a bad idea. Withholding rent is only allowed in certain, very specific situations, and usually only after getting a court's permission. Just as with any other type of self-help remedy, you might end up facing eviction or having to pay fines.

I have COVID-19 or might have it, and my landlord is treating me unfairly. Is this considered retaliation?

No. This would not be retaliation. However, a landlord cannot discriminate against you due to COVID-19. A landlord cannot evict you or force you to move out because you have COVID-19. Read Rights for Tenants with Health Issues for more information on tenant rights relating to COVID-19 and other health problems.

More Information and Forms

Information
Landlord and Tenants Guide (Texas A&M Real Estate Center) – Downloadable guide. See page 9 of the PDF for a detailed overview of retaliation.
Tenants' Rights Handbook (The Texas Young Lawyers Association and the State Bar of Texas) - Downloadable guide. See page 16 of the PDF for information on retaliation. 
Texas Property Code 92.331 – Texas Property Code covering landlord retaliation in general.
Texas Property Code 94.251 - Texas Property Code covering landlord retaliation for manufactured homes.

Forms
Letter to Landlord – Form letter that demands your landlord stop any retaliation. 
Petition - Lawsuit for Landlord Retaliation – Form to file a lawsuit against landlord retaliation.