If you have a problem with your landlord or any questions regarding your rights and responsibilities under your lease agreement, do not hesitate to refer to the resources available on the Judicial Affairs Web site. The office of Judicial Affairs is located on 4th floor of Clifton Robinson Tower; telephone number is 710-1715 or fax number 710-3592. To avoid unnecessary delays, it is best to call the office and make an appointment.
The lease is the legal contract between landlord and tenant. The
terms of the lease determine the rights and responsibilities of both the landlord
and tenant. Therefore, it is imperative to read and understand all the terms
before you sign a lease.
Some specific items which should be noted include:
- Notice requirements before vacating
- Security deposit refund requirements
- Any house rules of the apartment
- Provisions dealing with repairs
- Provisions concerning penalties for late payments
- Provisions concerning alterations and improvements
Provisions dealing with the responsibilities of multiple residents.
It is much wiser to have a written lease than an oral one. Although oral leases are valid if they are for no more than one year, a written lease substantiates your agreement should a dispute arise. An oral lease is merely the word of the landlord against the word of the tenant. A sample lease can be downloaded with the link at the top of this page.
Signing the Lease
- When signing a lease agreement, make sure that any oral agreements you have
made are written in the lease contract. Otherwise, the written lease
will normally cancel the oral agreement.
- If you and your roommate sign the same lease, you are in effect vouching for each other. Thus you could be made individually responsible for the entire amount of the rent, as well as any and all damages caused by your roommate or his/her guest. Consequently, you should exercise great care in selecting your roommate. In this connection, it should be noted that often you can avoid problems with roommates by establishing your own rules in regard to responsibilities for payment of rent, utilities, moving out, and rules in a written contract with your roommate.
If you have any questions regarding what a clause in the lease means, or if
you wonder whether you should agree to what seems to be a particularly onerous
term in a lease, seek legal advice.
After You Sign the Lease
- Obtain and keep a copy of the document signed by you and the landlord in
your personal records. (NOTE: Some landlords are choosing not to sign leases
so that in the event a mistake is made they cannot be held to the contract.
Do not leave without a signed copy!)
- Complete a checklist or Apartment Condition Inventory on the day you move in with your manager present. In many leases, you are given only 48 hours to do this, or you have accepted the premises "as is." An example of such an inventory can be downloaded on the "Moving In" page. Keep a copy of the inventory. Make sure it is dated and signed by both you and your manager, and give the manager a copy. If your manager will not comply, then make the list with a witness present and deliver it to the manager.
Responsibilities of the Tenant
Tenants have a number of obligations they must fulfill concerning the landlord's property. The following are suggested guidelines for tenant compliance:
The tenant is expected to pay rent promptly, as provided in the lease. Do not withhold your rent unless you have verified that you have a legal right to do so; if you fail to pay your rent, you may be subject to eviction and liability for payment of the remaining rent.
The tenant is expected to avoid conduct which prevents other tenants from the peaceful enjoyment of their housing units.
If the tenant desires to make any alterations in the premises, he/she should get written permission from the landlord to do so.
Upon vacating the premises, the tenant is expected to leave the apartment in a clean and rentable condition. In short, the apartment should be ready for the next tenant.
Breaking the Lease
- If you move out before the lease expires, you should make arrangements satisfactory
to both the landlord and all of your roommates. Remember, if your roommate
has to pay your portion of the rent for the remainder of the lease term, he/she
can probably hold you liable for what you would have paid had you not left.
The best solution is to find someone to take your place who is acceptable
to both the landlord and your roommate.
- If you are in the position of being left without a roommate or are looking for someone to take your place, a roommate referral file has been established by the Office of Student Life that might help you. This office is located on the first floor of the McLane Student Life Center, or you may call 710-6407.
Many students sublease apartments during the summer, and often the arrangements will lead to problems for the lessees. As a general rule, it is best for the lessees to terminate all utilities (water, electricity, gas, telephone) and have the sublessees reconnect these services under the sublessees' names. Otherwise, if the sublessees fail to pay these bills, the utility companies may look to the party in whose name the services were established for compensation. Similarly, the lessee may encounter problems with summer rent in the event the sublessor departs sooner than was agreed. Any unpaid summer rent will become the lessee's obligation. If you need help drafting a written sublease agreement, seek legal counsel.
The landlord may evict a tenant for good cause, such as nonpayment of rent or other substantial violations of the lease. The landlord, however, is obligated to follow proper judicial procedures for eviction, the first step of which is to give notice to the tenant that the landlord intends to evict the tenant. At this point, at least three days must expire before the landlord can file suit against the tenant unless the lease calls for a shorter period. Many leases specify a 24-hour notice period. If you receive notice of anticipated eviction, seek advice from a lawyer. Self-help evictions, such as changing door locks without notice of where a key may be obtained, or constructive evictions, such as interruption of utility service paid for by the tenant, are not permitted under Texas law.
Virtually all written leases provide for landlord's lien. This gives the landlord a legal right to take non-exempt property, such as televisions, stereos, etc., out of the apartment when rents have not been paid. Note that the lien operates independently of eviction procedures.
- Read your lease and locate the clause concerning repairs and maintenance.
The lease will state what responsibilities, if any, the landlord will assume
concerning repairs and maintenance. Not all leases require that the landlord
make ordinary repairs. Most leases containing repair clauses require that
the following steps be taken to get repairs made:
- Give your manager a written
notice (a work order filled out by the management is not sufficient)
requesting that repairs be made. Make a duplicate copy, and have the manager
sign both copies. Be sure to keep a copy for your files. If the manager
refuses to sign the request for repairs, send the notice by certified
mail, return receipt requested. This costs about $4 at any post office
and includes a returned receipt showing the manager received the notice.
- Wait a reasonable time. Reasonable time depends on the nature of the
repair. A clogged toilet would necessitate repair more quickly than a
broken dishwasher knob. Repairs requested at peak move-in times will require
more time than at other periods of the semester. Holidays should also
be considered when defining reasonable time. On the average, reasonable
time can be interpreted as three to four days to a week if regular maintenance
personnel can do the work.
- Submit a second written notice if repairs have not been made within
a reasonable time. Again, have the manager sign both copies and keep a
dated copy for your files. In your second written notice, indicate your
intent to terminate the contract unless repairs are completed within one
week. (This time period may vary from lease to lease.)
- Give your manager a written notice (a work order filled out by the management is not sufficient) requesting that repairs be made. Make a duplicate copy, and have the manager sign both copies. Be sure to keep a copy for your files. If the manager refuses to sign the request for repairs, send the notice by certified mail, return receipt requested. This costs about $4 at any post office and includes a returned receipt showing the manager received the notice.
- If the management refuses to make repairs, you should seek legal advice to determine your legal rights. You may have the right to sue
the landlord, to withhold repair costs from the rent, or to move and terminate
the lease; but these rights do not apply in every situation. A lawyer can help you determine your rights and your best option.
- For all leases in Texas, state law imposes a duty on the landlord that the
apartment or house will be habitable. This means that the landlord or his/her
agent must repair any conditions that materially affect the safety or health
of an ordinary tenant. Examples of such conditions might include sizable roof
or other water leaks, structural defects that impose a danger to your safety,
or serious electrical hazards. The law provides a procedure similar to that
described above for requesting repairs and gives a tenant specific remedies
against the landlord if repairs are not made. These remedies include suing
the landlord, withholding repair costs from rent, and terminating the lease,
but all of these may not apply in every situation. It is very important that
you obtain legal advice before attempting to exercise any of these
- If your lease does not require the landlord to make repairs, you might attempt to negotiate terms for repairs. This is often difficult after the lease is signed. If the landlord is not responsible for repairs, you cannot terminate your lease if repairs are not made. Sample forms for requesting repairs appear under "Landlord Issues" on the "Moving In" page.