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Avoid the Trap: Substandard Leases for Texas Residential Landlords

The Internet can do or provide ANYTHING, especially in this Age of AI-Right? Well, maybe.. and if you’re a Landlord, maybe not. It’s tempting to grab a Zillow lease to use for your residence leasing because, its either cheap or free. But like many things, this free lunch will soon get expensive if you have any issues with your tenant.

Texas Law is far less Cowboy than most people believe. The Texas Property Code, while admittedly slightly leaning in favor of the Landlord, tries to be fair to both Landlord and Tenant. However, in those cases that the Texas Property Code does not directly cover, you need to rely on the written lease. In the end, we will point you to a great resource to obtain a solid lease for your Landlords. Here are some excellent educational points.

Avoid the Trap: Substandard Leases for Texas Residential Landlords

1. Lack of Customization

Online lease templates are designed to be generic and applicable across various states and situations. However, Texas has specific landlord-tenant laws that may not be addressed in a one-size-fits-all document. Important clauses related to security deposits, repair obligations, and eviction procedures might not be adequately covered. Without these customized provisions, you risk having a lease that doesn’t fully protect your interests or comply with state regulations. For example, do you realize that there is a law protecting tenants from over-zealous late fees? Under Texas Law, a Landlord cannot charge more than 12% of the base rent for a single-family to a 4-unit dwelling and no more than 10% for a multi-unit or apartment building. This is per month. We have seen leases that wish to charge the national debt level of late fees. And while that may seem like a good thing, the Law will come down on you like a wet bag of cement if you try to collect those hefty fees from your tenant. You will receive monetary penalties of $100 plus 3 TIMES the collected fees. Yup, you have just helped book that Caribbean vacation for a late-paying tenant. Unfortunately, most Landlords don’t realize that their Internet Lease did them the nasty until they are in Court and the Judge points out the error of their ways… It’s never pleasant. Please avoid this.

2. Compliance with Texas Law

As mentioned, The Texas Property Code has unique requirements and protections for both landlords and tenants. An online lease not tailored to Texas statutes can lead to non-compliance with the Texas Property Code. For instance, the Code has specific rules regarding notice periods for ending a lease and tenant rights to repair, deduct, and even terminate the lease, which MUST BE IN BOLD FACE LARGE TYPE. Failing to include these provisions can result in legal disputes and financial penalties

2. Compliance with Texas Law

3. Non-Sensical Clauses

Many online lease agreements contain clauses that are nonsensical under Texas law. My personal favorite is Zillow’s insistence on inserting a Radon warning clause. Radon is a colorless gas that is linked to respiratory issues if sufficient exposure occurs.  Radon is generally not a significant problem in Texas except perhaps in the Panhandle or if a residence has a basement (unlikely in the DFW area). Radon IS more of a problem in the state of Maryland, for example.

4. Incomplete Rights and Definitions

Suppose the Tenant violates the lease by not paying rent. Or housing hordes of Chihuahuas. Or has a bachelor party that violates the HOA rules, or discharges a firearm in the general direction of their wayward Paramore while they are standing in their driveway. As Landlord Tenant attorneys, we hear this just about every week. If your lease does not have a comprehensive list of what a default is and the remedies available to you, you have to lean on the few remedies that the Texas Property Code offers.

4. Incomplete Rights and Definitions in digital leases

5. Default Cure Language

Default cure provisions, which allow the Tenant time to correct their lease violations, are a California and Commercial Lease creation. Like fire ants, they are miscreants that should be poisoned and left to rot. They should not be in a Texas residential lease. Giving the Tenant a cure possibility will subject your lease to the Courts review, and rarely give you the outcome you are looking for. Namely, the violation won’t be reviewed, but if you, as the Landlord, complied with allowing the Tenant their contractual cure. Most of the time, you will miss this, and now you are faced with not getting your tenant out, or worse, having to refile your eviction and maybe paying the tenant’s attorney’s fees. If they are unclear and have sufficient remedies, you can see months-long battles in the court with this tenant.

6. Potential for Disputes

A poorly drafted lease increases the likelihood of disputes between landlords and tenants. Ambiguities in the agreement can lead to differing interpretations, resulting in conflicts over rent payments, maintenance responsibilities, and the return of security deposits. Resolving these disputes often requires legal intervention, which can be time-consuming and expensive.

Conclusion

Don’t believe the hype. Free leases are a pass to difficult tenant situations. While they can be a quick and easy solution, they often fall short of providing the protection and clarity needed under Texas law.

Non-compliance risks and potential disputes far outweigh the convenience of downloading a template.

So, what should you do:

1.) Get a property manager: Most property managers have access to the Texas Association of Realtors Resident Lease, which is a stellar lease.

2.) Join TAA yourself. If you are in the business of being a landlord, it is one of your first and best moves.

3.) Consult with a Landlord Tenant Attorney. We see dozens of leases a month. To ensure your rights are protected and your lease is legally sound, it’s crucial to consult with a Texas-based attorney who specializes in landlord-tenant law. Investing in professional legal advice can save you from significant headaches and financial losses in the long run.

Need Help Reviewing Your Lease?

If you need help reviewing your residential lease in Texas, reach out to Sprigg-Novak Law Firm today. 

With 30+ years of experience at all levels of the Courts, we will protect your interests. We have experience helping commercial and residential landlords throughout North Texas with landlord tenant issues.

To learn more about our experience, visit our About Us page, or In the Media page.