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Eviction Answer

Eviction & Other Landlord Issues

How to answer an eviction suit.
Overview

Guide Overview

Warning: The information and forms in this guide are not a substitute for the advice and help of a lawyer.

This guide helps you Answer an Eviction suit. It includes an Answer form and tips on what defenses to eviction may apply to you. 

Common questions about Eviction & Other Landlord Issues

You need to file with the Justice Court that issued the Eviction Citation. This should be in the same precinct as the property. If you have appealed your case to County Court and have not already filed an Answer, you would file with the County Court.

You may be able to file online at efiletexas.gov. If you have trouble filing online, you may be able to file in person with the court clerk. If you can't file online and the court clerk's office is closed, contact the court clerk to find out how to file.

The Eviction Citation should say when your Answer is due. Eviction cases move fast. Your hearing could take place as soon as 10 days after your landlord files a Petition for Eviction. At the latest, your hearing must be within 21 days of the Petition.

In Texas eviction cases, no. If you fail to file an Answer, you should still go to the hearing. However, there are good reasons to file an Answer:

  • It lets you tell the judge in writing why you should not be evicted.
  • It requires the judge to look at the evidence before making a decision.
  • If you want to appeal the decision to County Court, you have to submit an Answer if you have not already done so.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is a federal law passed to help people and businesses during COVID-19. Most of these protections have ended, However, a landlord must still give you 30 days' notice before filing an eviction if the CARES Act covers your home.

See this article from Texas RioGrande Legal Aid for more information about the CARES Act, including a list of programs that trigger tenant protections.

A general denial tells the court that you want the other side to prove their case. If you make a general denial, the other side must show the court that they deserve to win the lawsuit. Most Answer forms on TexasLawHelp contain a general denial.

Instructions & Forms

Warning: The information and forms in this guide are not a substitute for the advice and help of a lawyer.

Checklist Steps

Select the Eviction Answer Form below these instructions. The form is a fillable PDF.

Or you can use Lone Star Legal Aid Eviction Answer Guided Interview (also below). It will ask you questions and fill out the form for you. If you choose this option, follow the directions that come with Lone Star Legal Aid's form. 
 

The caption is the heading at the top with all of the case information.

Enter the Cause No., Plaintiff, Defendant, County, and Precinct No. or Court Number exactly as they appear in the documents the court sent you. Sometimes the cause number is labeled “case number” or “docket number” instead.

Appeals: If you are filing an appeal in County Court, use the County Court’s caption information if available. (If you file the Answer at the Justice Court along with your other appeal documents, it is ok to use the Justice Court’s caption information.)
 

Read each defense and see if it applies to your case. Check as many as apply. You don’t have to check any boxes if none apply.

Here is an explanation of each defense:

Plaintiff has received rental assistance funds: Check this box if rent assistance paid for at least one period of rent that the landlord is accusing you of not paying in this eviction suit. 

For example, if you used rent assistance to pay last month’s rent, but the petition says that you should be evicted for owing last month’s rent, then check this box.


 

Plaintiff Failed to Mitigate Damages: Check this box if you or a rent assistance program tried to pay the landlord (in full or in part), but the landlord refused to accept the money.

Note: This may not be a strong defense against eviction if the payment attempt was late. However, it may help you owe less in missed rent if you lose your case.


 

Defendant Does Not Live on the Property: Check this box if you have already moved out of the home. Eviction cases are meant to remove someone from a property. If you no longer live on the property, there is no reason for the court to order you to move.


 

Federal Mortgage in Forbearance: Check this box if:

  • You live on a property with five or more units, and
  • Your landlord is in forbearance on a mortgage from the Fair Housing Administration or the Fair Housing Finance Agency (including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac).

If this defense applies, also check the box next to the entity that holds your landlord’s mortgage.


 

CARES Act Notice: Landlords of covered properties must give a 30-Day Notice to Vacate before filing for eviction for nonpayment of rent.

Check this box if you live on a covered property and any of the following apply:

  • The landlord did not give you a 30-Day Notice to Vacate, or
  • The landlord gave you a 30-Day Notice to Vacate (at any time) but filed for eviction before the 30 days ended.

Covered Properties - You can use the following tools to help find this information:

Note that the lists are not complete. If you check the lists and are still unsure whether you live on a covered property, see How to Find Out if the CARES Act Applies to Your Home.


 

Texas Notice to Vacate: 

Check this box if you did not get a Notice to Vacate. Texas law requires all landlords to give tenants a Notice to Vacate at least three days before filing for eviction unless the lease states a shorter period. (Many leases require only one day, so check your lease.) 

You can also check this box if the time between when you received a Notice to Vacate and the date on your citation is: 

  • Less than the period stated in your lease, or 
  • Less than three days if the lease does not state a time period, or
  • Less than 30 days if the landlord took over through foreclosure and chose not to continue your lease even though you have not missed rent. 

Note: This Notice to Vacate is in addition to the city-specific notice requirements below. 


 

Notice of Possible Eviction (City of Dallas only): Check this box if:

  • The property is in Dallas city limits, 
  • Your eviction is for nonpayment of rent, and 
  • You did not get an extra ten-day notice before your landlord gave you a Notice to Vacate.


 

Notice of Renters Rights (City of San Antonio only): Check this box if:

  • The property is in San Antonio city limits,
  • Your eviction is for nonpayment of rent, and 
  • You did not receive a Notice of Renters Rights along with your Notice to Vacate. 

Note: San Antonio landlords risk a fine if they do not give a Notice of Renters Rights. However, this may not be a strong defense against eviction.


 

Notice of Proposed Eviction (City of Austin only): Check this box if:

  • The property is in Austin city limits,
  • Your eviction is for nonpayment of rent, and
  • You did not receive a Notice of Proposed Eviction at least seven days before landlord gave you a notice to vacate.

You may list any further defenses or information that you think the court should know about. If there is not enough room, you can attach the information to the Answer form.

Check this box if you want a jury to decide your case instead of a judge. Be aware that there is a fee for this. (If you use a Statement of Inability to Pay, you won’t have to pay the fee.)

If you ask for a jury trial, note that every court has their own jury procedure. You should ask the court clerk for their jury trial rules. See also Jury Trials in Justice Court.

Check this box if you agree to get case information through email. If you check this box, enter an email address that you check often.

If your explanations do not fit in the form, feel free to add them to a separate document. You will add that document as an attachment.

You can also attach other evidence, such as a copy of the lease, evidence that the CARES Act applies, etc. List the title of each attachment. For example: “Lease Agreement."

If you have a Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs (for an appeal or a jury trial), you must attach a copy to your Answer. If you are appealing by bond or by cash deposit, be sure to attach a copy of your appeal form to your Answer.

Sign, date, and fill out your contact information.

Sign and date the Certificate of Service section. This is your promise to the court that you will give the landlord or their attorney a copy of the Answer.

File the completed Answer with the court. You can call the court named in your court papers to see how they want you to file your document—online, in person, by email, etc. If you cannot reach the court, filing with the clerk in person is always acceptable. You will also want to file any attachments that you plan to use. 

Filing Deadlines:

  • Justice Court: You may file the Answer at any time before the hearing, including the day of the hearing. If you do not file your Answer before your hearing date, be sure to bring copies for the court, the landlord, and yourself to the hearing. 
  • County Court: If you are appealing and you did not file an Answer in Justice Court, you must file in the County Court within eight days from the time the County Court receives your case. While County Court will send you a notice, mail is sometimes slow. Check with the Justice Court clerk often to see if they have sent your case to County Court.

Where to File an Answer for an Appeal: 

  • You can file your Answer at the Justice Court when you submit your other appeal documents. 
  • If the Justice Court has already sent your case to County Court, file your Answer with the County Court. 
  • If you have already filed an Answer in Justice Court, you do not need to file another.

You must serve the other side. This means you need to give a copy of the filed and stamped Answer to the Plaintiff or the Plaintiff’s attorney if they have one. (The clerk or eFiling system will stamp the Answer when you file it.) You can give them a copy by hand, mail, or fax. If you and the Plaintiff agree in writing, you can email them a copy.

Go to the court hearing. If you absolutely cannot show up to the hearing, file a Motion for Continuance to ask for another date. You must have a very good reason to move the court date. The court does not have to give you a new court date just because you ask. Note that conflict with your work schedule is not usually an acceptable reason.

Forms Required

Warning: The information and forms in this guide are not a substitute for the advice and help of a lawyer.

This list tells you what steps to take to see if the CARES Act requires your landlord to give you an extra 30-day Notice to Vacate. The CARES Act may also protect you from late fees incurred prior to July 25, 2020.

Checklist Steps

The CARES Act only protects people who are late on rent. If you are being evicted or fined for reasons other than late rent, the CARES Act does not apply.

Your Notice to Vacate or the Petition for Eviction should list the reason for eviction. 

The CARES Act only applies to properties where the landlord participates in certain federal programs. There are several tools that let you look up covered properties. However, please be aware that not all covered properties are included in the results. This is especially true for smaller buildings or single-family homes, which are less likely to show up in the tool.

Tools to look up covered properties:

Below is a list of federal programs that trigger CARES Act tenant protections.

It may or may not be obvious if your property participates in a program. If you are a Section 8 tenant, for example, you know that your property participates in a Section 8 program. But other programs are more obscure or hard for a tenant to determine.

Programs that trigger CARES Act tenant protections are:

  • Public housing 
  • Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program 
  • Section 8 project-based housing 
  • Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program
  • Section 202 housing for the elderly 
  • Section 811 housing for people with disabilities 
  • Section 236 multifamily rental housing 
  • Section 221(d)(3) Below Market Interest Rate (BMIR) housing 
  • HOME 
  • Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) 
  • McKinney-Vento Act homelessness programs 
  • Section 515 Rural Rental Housing 
  • Sections 514 and 516 Farm Labor Housing
  • Section 533 Housing Preservation Grants 
  • Section 538 multifamily rental housing
  • USDA Rural Housing Choice Voucher program
  • The CARES Act also protects tenants if Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac have a financial interest in the property.

If the first three steps did not help you find out if the CARES Act applies, you can try to get the information through discovery. Discovery is where the other side has to give you information as part of a court case. 

To get the information through discovery, the tenant may ask the court to require the landlord to answer questions by following these four steps:

1. Write a list of questions, called “interrogatories,” that ask the landlord for the following information:

  • Is the property backed by a federal mortgage loan or a federal multifamily mortgage loan?
  • What is the name of the mortgage lender and loan servicer for the property, if any?
  • Does the property participate in any of the following federal housing programs?
    • Public housing 
    • Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program 
    • Section 8 project-based housing 
    • Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program
    • Section 202 housing for the elderly 
    • Section 811 housing for people with disabilities 
    • Section 236 multifamily rental housing 
    • Section 221(d)(3) Below Market Interest Rate (BMIR) housing 
    • HOME 
    • Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) 
    • McKinney-Vento Act homelessness programs 
    • Section 515 Rural Rental Housing 
    • Sections 514 and 516 Farm Labor Housing
    • Section 533 Housing Preservation Grants 
    • Section 538 multifamily rental housing
    • USDA Rural Housing Choice Voucher program.

2. File a Motion for Expedited Discovery that asks the justice court to make the landlord answer your interrogatories under oath. Attach the list of interrogatories to the motion when filing. Note: TexasLawHelp does not currently have Motion for Expedited Discovery forms. We will post forms when or if they become available.

 3. After filing the Motion for Expedited Discovery, serve the landlord a copy of the motion and the proposed interrogatories. One can serve by mail, fax, hand delivery, or email if the landlord has consented to email service.

4. If the court grants the Motion for Expedited Discovery, serve the interrogatories on the landlord by mail, fax, hand delivery, or email if the landlord has consented to email service.

The court will use the landlord’s answers to these interrogatory questions to decide whether the CARES Act applies.

Checklist Steps

Be sure of the date, time and location of the court for the hearing. This information should appear on the court papers you received.

Don’t be late. You should arrive early because there may be cases ahead of yours that run over or end earlier. Turn off your cell phone when you get into the court.

You should bring all the documents that you received from the court or your landlord and any other documents that are important to your case. You should also bring any witnesses that
may be important to your case.

Dress in a way that shows respect for the court. Do not wear shorts, T-shirts, tank tops, worn out jeans, or similar clothing. Dress like you are going to a job interview or a special event.

When your case is called, be respectful in your responses to the people in court. Always address the Judge as “Your Honor” or “Judge.”

Listen carefully and do not interrupt the judge or witnesses. Direct all your responses to the judge unless you are questioning a witness.

Be prepared to give a short summary of your case and what has happened. Explain to the judge what you are asking for and why you should get it.

The judge will often rule on your case right after hearing the evidence. Sometimes, the judge will need time to review the case before deciding. Be prepared for both.

If the judge does not rule in your favor, you will still want to be respectful to the judge.

If you do not show up to court, your landlord will get a default judgment against you. A default judgment means your landlord won the case because you did not show up to defend your case.

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