The Common Law

Landlord's perspective on tenant disputes

The Common Law regularly addresses landlord/tenant issues from the tenant's perspective. Over the next two weeks, the Common Law will address some basic rental dispute issues as raised by landlords.

Can I change the door locks on the property if the tenant has not paid rent?

Yes. The Texas Property Code (Section 92.0081) allows a landlord to change the door locks of a tenant who is delinquent in rent. It is important to understand, however, that Texas law sets out very specific requirements that must be followed by a landlord when locking out a tenant.

For example, if the landlord changes the door locks on a tenant delinquent in paying rent, the landlord must place a written notice on the tenant's door. The notice must state the amount of rent and other charges for which the tenant is delinquent. The notice must also state an on-site location where the tenant may go 24 hours a day to obtain the new key or a telephone number that is answered 24 hours a day, which the tenant may call to have a key delivered within two hours of calling the number.

That's right landlords: Even if you lock out your tenant for not paying rent, Texas law requires that you give the tenant the new key upon request. The new key must be provided without regard to whether the tenant pays the delinquent rent.

Why bother changing the locks at all, you ask? Many landlords will change the locks when the tenant is nonresponsive to requests to pay the rent because, by changing the locks, the tenant has to make contact with the landlord in order to gain entry into the rented premises. In short, changing the locks forces the tenant to communicate with the landlord before reentering the property.

Be sure to read Texas Property Code Chapter 92 (Section 92.0081) if you are a landlord who is giving consideration to locking out a tenant. In the interim, if you are a landlord and have similar questions, be sure to submit them for possible future "Common Law" columns.

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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