For tenants facing eviction, the Supreme Court of Texas issued its 20th Emergency Order on Tuesday, July 21, 2020. The order applies to rental properties covered by the CARES Act and requires landlords to make three statements about the rental property.

  • First, the landlord must state that the tenant was provided with a 30 day Notice to Vacate. Failure to provide a tenant with a 30-day NTV may result in dismissal of the eviction case.
  • Second, the landlord must state whether or not the rental property is a “covered dwelling” under the CARES Act. If the rental property is a covered dwelling, the eviction case cannot proceed until August 24, 2020.
  • Finally, the landlord must state whether or not the landlord is a “multifamily borrower” that has received the benefit of loan forbearance. This means that the landlord is temporarily excused from paying the mortgage on the rental property. For rental properties covered by the CARES Act, the landlord may not evict a tenant for nonpayment of rent until the landlord is required to start making mortgage payments again.

Cases that were filed before July 21, 2020, will likely require that the landlord submit an amended (or updated) statement to make sure they’re not violating the 20th Emergency Order.

While the CARES Act and the Supreme Court order provide protections for tenants, landlords may try other methods to make a tenant leave. Tenants should know that they never have to leave their rental property until the judge rules against them in court and the Writ of Possession says they must leave. Other methods include locking tenants out of their homes or illegally shutting off their water, lights, or gas. Lone Star Legal Aid’s Housing advocates put together answers to common questions related to renter’s rights in these situations.

Q. Can my landlord lock me out if I am behind on the rent?

  1. Yes and no. In some situations when you are behind on the rent, your landlord may have the right to change the locks. The landlord does not have the right to change the locks if you are not behind on the rent, and the landlord cannot change the locks unless the lease agreement specifically gives them that right. In addition, the landlord must give you advance warning in writing before changing the locks.

Q. Do I have to pay the rent I owe before I can get a key to the new lock?

  1. No. If the landlord changes the locks because you are behind on rent, the landlord should place a notice on the door stating either an on-site location where you can go to get a key 24 hours a day or a telephone number that is answered 24 hours a day where you can request that a key be delivered to you within 2 hours. The notice should state that you will be provided with a key on request whether or not you pay the rent.

Q. What if my landlord locks me out and refuses to give me a key?

  1. If your landlord locks you out and refuses to give you a key on request, contact your local justice of the peace. The justice of the peace may order your landlord to immediately unlock your door by signing a “writ of re-entry.” Lone Star Legal Aid may be able to assist you with this process.

Q. Can my landlord disconnect my electricity or water if I can’t pay the rent?

  1. No. The landlord cannot legally turn off your water, wastewater, or gas service unless the disconnection is because of legitimate repairs, construction, or an emergency. In some situations, the landlord may have the right to disconnect your electricity, but only if you are delinquent in paying an electricity bill that you normally pay to the landlord. Generally, the landlord cannot disconnect your electricity if your electricity bill has been paid or if you pay your electricity bill directly to the utility company, even if you are behind in rent.

Q. What can I do if my landlord has unlawfully disconnected my power or other utility?

  1. If the landlord has wrongfully disconnected one or more of your utilities, you may be able to obtain a “writ of restoration” from your local justice of the peace. A writ of restoration is a court order requiring a landlord to restore your utilities that have been wrongfully disconnected. Lone Star Legal Aid may be able to assist you with this process also.

If you or someone you know is facing eviction and needs legal assistance, you can apply for free legal help on our website at http://www.lonestarlegal.org or over the telephone at 1-800-733-8394. You can also visit our COVID-19 Eviction and Other Resources website page to explore the tools and information we have created for tenants.

Lone Star Legal Aid is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit law firm focused on advocacy on behalf of low-income and underserved populations. Lone Star Legal Aid serves millions of people at 125% of federal poverty guidelines that reside in 72 counties in the eastern and Gulf Coast regions of Texas, and 4 counties of southwest Arkansas. Lone Star Legal Aid focuses its resources on maintaining, enhancing, and protecting income and economic stability; preserving housing; improving outcomes for children; establishing and sustaining family safety and stability, health and well‐being; and assisting populations with special vulnerabilities, like those who have disabilities, or who are elderly, homeless, or have limited English language skills. To learn more about Lone Star Legal Aid, visit our website at http://www.lonestarlegal.org.

Media contact: Clarissa Ayala, cayala@lonestarlegal.org