Facing off against a tenant who knows how to game the Texas eviction system is no game of chance. It’s less than that. The game is rigged. Your tenant has a whole host of methods to cause delays in the eviction process. You face some extremely complicated legal maneuvers to untangle the mess your tenant can create. An eviction lawyer has extensive experience combating tenants at all levels of the eviction process. Best of all, the eviction attorneys at Girling Law have the skills and resources that can help you avoid many of these disasters.
Why Eviction in Texas Is Rigged Against Landlords
Texas landlords enjoy very few breaks in the state’s eviction laws. State law gives tenants several methods to slow down or entirely abate the eviction process.
Texas law limits what it calls “postponements” of eviction trials. No Justice of the Peace is permitted to postpone an eviction in Texas for more than seven days without the agreement of both parties. Tex. R. Civ. P. §510.7(c). Tenants will often seek delays of the eviction process by filing a Motion for Continuance. Justices of the Peace will typically deny these motions immediately. Sometimes they will simply not respond to the motion.
Occasionally, however, a Justice of the Peace will grant a continuance. Where the Judge’s decision results in the case being postponed more than 7 days, the order is clearly unlawful. The landlord must remedy this situation by filing a special petition with a different court. Unfortunately, this process is quite complicated.
Other Tenant Shenanigans
Tenants will also file other motions in hopes of delaying trial. Our firm once had a tenant challenge our client’s Affidavit of Non-Military Service. The tenant claimed her son lived in the property. This was potentially fatal to our case because the son was an active duty Marine at the time. We resolved this challenge by proving her son lived in California.
But this hearing could have turned really ugly had our client not hired an eviction lawyer from Girling Law. Our firm attaches to these affidavits proof that each tenant is not in the military. The U.S. Department of Defense maintains a database of all active duty military personnel. Our eviction attorneys included a certificate reflecting the tenant was not in the military. Her son was a non-issue because he was never on the lease. But imagine if our client did what most landlords do and sign these affidavits with no actual knowledge of the tenant’s military status. The tenant would have shown our client had committed perjury had an eviction lawyer not taken this extra step.
Arguably the greatest nuisance for landlords is a tenant who files bankruptcy. Tenants will sometimes take this step out of desperation. Unfortunately, federal laws operate to make bankruptcy stays automatic. Landlords should operate from the assumption that a bankruptcy stay is in place the second their tenant files the paperwork. A landlord who violates a bankruptcy stay – even unknowingly – can face tens of thousands of dollars in sanctions.
The process of removing yourself from your tenant’s bankruptcy can take several months. And, unfortunately, the process landlords must go through is quite complicated. You absolutely need an eviction attorney to untangle a tenant bankruptcy.
Some tenants who have really learned to game the system will attempt to file a series of bankruptcies. Others might try to “tag team” bankruptcies with their co-tenants. There is a way to stop this cycle.
Removal to Federal Court
A much more unusual tactic involves a tenant going to a U.S. District Court (federal court), and applying to have his eviction case “removed” to federal court. By “removal” what is meant is that the case is removed from state court, and paced in the jurisdiction of the federal court system. There is virtually never a legal basis for a tenant to remove an eviction in Texas into federal court. But much like bankruptcy, the federal court automatically obtain jurisdiction over these cases. The landlord is left having to make his case to the federal court that the federal courts do not have jurisdiction.
The process for asking a federal court to give up jurisdiction over a removed case is called “remand.” Courts generally guard their jurisdiction over cases jealously. If you are going to request a remand from any court, you better have an excellent argument! Filing for a remand from a federal court is complicated. You need an attorney to handle this for you.
Appealing Justice of the Peace Eviction Judgments
Texas law gives tenants the right to an “unrestricted” appeal from a Justice of the Peace judgment. This means the tenant needs no reason at all to appeal. They simply need to file a one-page notice with the Justice of the Peace and “perfect” the appeal.
There are three ways for tenants to perfect their appeals. The first method of perfecting an appeal is to pay the appeal fee and the appeal bond. The second method involves the tenant filing a Pauper’s Appeal. With this method, the tenant can avoid paying any bond or any filing fee. But tenants must pay rent into the court’s registry when they file a Pauper’s Appeal. The third method is a surety bond. This is where the tenant obtains the signatures of two people with non-exempt assets to guarantee the bond.
A successful appeal will transfer the eviction case to a County Court.
Appealing County Court Eviction Judgments
Tenants in Texas have a Constitutional right to appeal the County Court’s eviction judgment, too. However, appeals from County Court will require a reason for the appeal. So tenants do not have that “unrestricted right” to appeal as they did in the Justice of the Peace Court. Despite the requirement that the tenant have a reason to appeal, few have one. They are typically seeking a delay in the eviction process. This is often quite frustrating because Courts of Appeals are almost never willing to punish a tenant for filing a bogus appeal.
When a tenant appeals his County Court eviction judgment, the case is transferred to one of fourteen Texas Courts of Appeals. Landlords facing such an appeal have multiple options to fight the tenant’s actions. Some options can be executed simultaneously.
Cases before the Texas Court of Appeals are very complicated. You should always enlist the help of an eviction lawyer experienced with handling these types of appeals. Courts of Appeals cases can drag on for two or more years. An attorney experienced with these cases will understand the procedures that can result in the Court of Appeals shutting the case down early.
How Texas Landlords Can Level the Playing Field
You’re probably thinking the answer to this question is going to be, “Hire the eviction attorneys at Girling Law!” Well – that is the answer, but it is only part of the answer….
When it comes to leveling the playing field, the most effective step you can take as a landlord is to have a great lease. Bad leases create holes for the tenant. They create opportunities for tenants to confuse the judge or feign a misunderstanding of the terms. Always start with a great lease agreement. You want your attorney focused on using legal procedures and maneuvers to remove your tenant. You don’t want your eviction lawyer wrestling with complicated fact issues because of a poorly drafted lease.
Another thing you can do to level the playing field is to start the eviction process of correctly. Use a notice to vacate that creates options for you instead of limiting them. Make sure your notice to vacate is delivered in a manner that can be proven. You will not spend a lot of money by hiring your attorney draft and send your notice to vacate for you. And you get the added benefit of having the notice go out on a lawyer’s letterhead.
And yes – hiring Girling Law will go a long ways towards helping you even the odds with your tenant!
Girling Law’s Role in Your Eviction Strategy
You’ve probably heard Benjamin Franklin’s expression, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Always keep Girling Law in your arsenal. And always call us early. We will never charge you for an initial consultation.
If you have read this entire page, you have some sense of the many opportunities tenants have to make a simple eviction in Texas not so simple. Taking advantage of every opportunity to cause your tenant to leave your rental property early is key to minimizing your costs. A notice to vacate on an attorney letterhead is way more intimidating than the same notice on blank paper. Do you think a tenant is more likely to vacate or less likely to vacate knowing an attorney will handle his eviction?
Even if your eviction proceeds, you want a law firm that can handle all stages of the eviction process. You want a firm with plenty of experience in Justice of the Peace Courts. You want an eviction lawyer who is a familiar face to those Justices of the Peace. When the tenant appeals to County Court, you need an attorney who understand and has experience fast tracking and challenging these appeals. When your tenant takes your case to a bankruptcy court, U.S. District Court, or to a Texas Court of Appeals, you need an attorney who can roll with these punches.