The best way to handle evictions in Fort Worth is to avoid them. They don’t work out for anyone, and unless you know what you’re doing, they can be expensive and time-consuming. You want to reduce the chances you’ll have to evict by screening tenants thoroughly, enforcing your lease, and keeping the lines of communication open with your tenants at all time.
Even if you do everything you possibly can to avoid an eviction, bad things can happen to good tenants, and they might find themselves unable to pay the rent. When this happens, it’s important that you understand the legal process and follow it closely. There are several reasons you might evict a tenant. You can evict for nonpayment of rent, lease violations, criminal activity at the property, or because there’s excessive property damage at the home. The most common reason to evict a tenant, however, is because that tenant isn’t paying rent.
Eviction and the Texas Property Code
Chapter 24 of the Texas Property Code discusses eviction and the legal requirements that landlords must heed. You’ll see the term forcible detainer, which is the legal definition of an eviction. When you familiarize yourself with this part of the Texas Property Code, you’ll understand what you must do to legally evict a tenant. Some of the highlights include:
- Providing written notice before filing a court action.
- Following the necessary delivery instructions for that notice.
- Requesting a Writ of Possession before changing the locks and removing the tenant.
- What to do when there’s a balance owed after eviction.
- How the sheriff can help you remove a tenant from your property.
As a landlord or a property owner, you are not required to hire an attorney to represent you in a forcible detainer action. However, we recommend that you seek advice from a Fort Worth property manager or an attorney who specializes in real estate and eviction law. Even one innocent mistake can get your eviction case thrown out, and then you have to start over. This will only delay the process and cost you more money in both fees and unpaid rent. Get professional advice and do it right.
The importance of your lease is always especially apparent when you’re trying to collect unpaid rent or evict a tenant. We always tell our owners that a strong lease specific to Texas is critical. If your lease does not comply with Texas law, you’re going to have a difficult time enforcing it or asking a judge to enforce it in court.
Talk to Your Tenant When Rent is Late
Communication is critical to avoiding eviction and keeping emotions in check. Your lease should indicate when rent is due and allow for a grace period. Texas law requires a grace period of at least one day. Once that period has come and gone and you still have not received the rent, you are permitted to charge a late fee (if your lease stipulates that). You should also call or text your tenant. Remind them that rent hasn’t been paid and ask when you can expect it. While it’s not always likely, it’s entirely possible that paying the rent simply slipped your tenant’s mind, and he or she will catch up with it as soon as you call.
Remember to stay calm during this conversation. Instead of angrily demanding your money, simply tell the tenant why you’re calling. Be sympathetic to any excuse you hear, and remember that the ultimate goal is to get the rent paid. Be direct, and find out when the tenant will be able to pay the rent in full. If your tenant becomes hostile, remain professional. You can refer to the lease or to Texas law when you’re explaining what the tenant’s responsibilities are.
You might be accused of things in this conversation. If the tenant cannot pay rent or has no intention of paying rent, your tenant might try to claim that you haven’t made a repair or the property isn’t in habitable condition. This is exactly why it’s so important to document inspections, conversations, and maintenance requests. Keep the conversation positive, if you can. Be sure to document it for your files, and move onto the next step. Even if the tenant has promised to pay in a week or in two days, you want to always be thinking about the future and how you can quickly and efficiently replace a nonpaying tenant with a paying tenant.
Serve a Notice to Vacate
The first legal step in the eviction process is to deliver your tenant a Notice to Vacate. This written notice must be served before you can file any lawsuit in court to have the tenant removed. The notice itself is not complicated. You simply state the reason the tenant must vacate and instructions to do so. If there’s going to be difficulty with this notice, it’s how you deliver it. You have several different options when you’re serving a Notice to Vacate in Fort Worth:
- Physically hand it to someone at the property who is at least 16 years of age. Document that you’ve done this.
- Tape or affix the notice to the inside of the front door (not a screen door). Mail a copy as well.
- Send the notice through the mail. You don’t have to use certified mail, but it’s a good way to document that it was delivered.
Once you properly serve your Notice to Vacate, the tenant has three days to respond. Things will either get easier for you or more complicated.
Dealing with the Court System
Evictions are handled through county courts, so in Fort Worth, you’ll be working with the Tarrant County courts. File your eviction lawsuit in the region where your rental property is located. Every county and precinct is a little bit different in how they manage their procedures, but you can count on a few things to be the same. The information you are required to provide will stay the same no matter where you’re filing. Be prepared to provide:
- Tenant’s name and contact information.
- Landlord’s name and contact information.
- Rental property address.
- Reason for eviction.
- Amount owed by tenant.
- Date tenant moved into the property.
You’ll need to disclose if the tenant is a member of the military, and you’ll have to pay a filing fee, which is usually around $100. You can include a demand for damages if the tenant owes you less than $10,000 in unpaid rent or repair costs from damages. Turn all of your information into the county clerk, and wait to hear about your court date.
Once your hearing date is scheduled, the tenant will be notified. This is your day in court, and your opportunity to prove that the tenant hasn’t paid and deserves to be evicted. Make sure you’re prepared. You should have a copy of the lease, your rent records, any evidence that supports your claim the tenant hasn’t paid rent, and notes on any conversations you’ve had or attempts to collect the rent. Make sure you have a copy of your Notice to Vacate as well.
In most cases, the tenants don’t even show up for the hearing. If they do and you make your case, the judge will rule in your favor. The tenant will then be given five days to leave your property, and you’ll win a judgment for any outstanding debts that are owed. The tenant has the option to appeal the ruling, and if the judge happens to rule against you, you’ll also have five days to appeal.
Obtaining a Writ of Possession
Hopefully, your tenants will accept the court’s ruling and move out on their own. But, if your Fort Worth tenants have nowhere to go, they might not leave after the five days. In this case, you’ll need to get a Writ of Possession from the court. Send that Writ to the constable, and schedule a time for the constable to physically remove your tenants. Have a crew ready to move out the tenant’s property as well, and be prepared to change the locks. Unless your lease specifically states what will happen to the tenant’s property, you’ll want to talk to a lawyer about how to handle what was left behind in the home.
We think professional Fort Worth property management can help you avoid situations like this. Professional property managers often have lower eviction rates that independent landlords. We do a better job of screening tenants, and we have more time to keep a close eye on the property and your tenants. If eviction does become necessary, we can move quickly and professionally, keeping a buffer zone between you and your tenants.
If you’re not working with a property manager and you aren’t sure what to do when your tenants stop paying rent, we recommend you talk to an attorney. Texas is generally a landlord-friendly state, but you don’t want to test that in a court of law. If you have any questions about effectively and legally evicting tenants from your rental property, please contact us at Specialized Property Management.