By: Benjamin M. Tenenholtz
Almost everyone has months where money is tight. And as you may or may not know, if you’re late on rent payments for your rental home or apartment, you may find yourself locked out of your property. While your landlord has a right to lock you out if you don’t pay your rent, he must follow very specific rules in the Texas Property Code in order to lock out a tenant.
1. Warning of the Lockout
If your landlord locks you out of your residence, he must post a notice on your front door which provides you with a 24-hour on-site location to access your new key, or a 24-hour phone number you can call to have a new key delivered within two hours. The landlord’s notice must also tell you the amount of late rent/charges and he must provide you a new key, at any hour, REGARDLESS of whether or not you pay the delinquent rent. It is important to know that your landlord cannot lock you out on a day on which a designated person is not available, or the on-site management office is not open, for you to pay the delinquent rent.
2. Notice of Lockout and Legal Niceties
Additionally, your landlord cannot lock you out of your residence at all unless your lease agreement tells you that you can be locked out for failing to pay rent, and you are actually delinquent in paying your rent. In addition to these requirements, the landlord is required to provide a warning notice either: five days before the lockout by local mail, or three days before the lockout by hand-delivery or by posting on your main entry door. This notice should tell you the earliest date you may be locked out, the amount you must pay to prevent the lockout, the contact information for the individual or management office to discuss your rent, and tell you in underlined or bold print that you have a right to get a new key to your residence at any hour, REGARDLESS of whether you pay the delinquent rent.
3. Remedy for Wrongful Lockout
If your landlord violates any of these laws, you have substantial rights to which you are entitled! You may either regain entry to your residence, or terminate the lease. In addition to these rights, you are entitled to recover a penalty from the landlord of $1,000, one month’s rent, actual damages, court costs, and reasonable attorney’s fees (minus the amount of delinquent rent). Additionally, if your landlord fails to give you a key after you request it, you may be entitled to another month’s rent.
Maybe most important to wrongfully locked out tenants… Your lease cannot waive any of these rights!
So in summary, remember these things:
- Warning of Lockout–it should come ahead of time in the mail or on your door or by personal delivery and include delinquent amounts and contact information
- Notice of Lockout–Posted on the door to the residence, including the delinquent rent amount but more importantly advising you that a key is available to you at any time, within 2 hours, regardless of your ability to pay the delinquent amounts
- Vindicating your Rights–Lockouts not done in strict accordance with the property code are subject to stiff civil penalties. A lawyer can help you recover the damages and fines your landlord might owe you, but you probably still have to pay your rent.