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Making the Argument

The Hard Truth: Landlords- Beware: Locking Out Tenants Can be Costly

By Michelle Fulton

August 31, 2004

The information in this column is not intended as legal advice but to provide a general understanding of the law. Any readers with legal problems, including those whose questions are addressed here, should consult attorneys for advice on their particular circumstances.

Q: I am a property manager for an apartment complex, and recently we had a situation where we had to lock a tenant out of their apartment for non-payment of rent. Now, we are facing the possibility of being sued because apparently there is some procedure under Texas law that we have to follow before we can lock a tenant out. What is this procedure?

A: Yes, there is a procedure, and if Landlords do not follow it fully, they can be held liable in court for damages. Here is the procedure for a proper lock-out of a tenant for failure to pay all or part of the rent (all of these steps must be followed):

  1. The landlord may not lock a tenant out until he has done the following: The landlord must mail a letter to the tenant no later than the fifth calendar day before they intend to change the locks, or the landlord also has the option of posting the letter inside the main entry door of the tenant’s apartment or hand-delivering the letter to the tenant no later than three calendar days before the landlord intends to change the locks. This letter must state the earliest date that the locks will be changed, the amount of rent that must be paid to prevent the locks from being changed, and the name and street address of the individual or location of on-site management office where the rent can be paid during off-business hours.
  2. The landlord cannot change the locks on a day when there is nobody available to accept the delinquent rent payment.
  3. If the landlord does lock the tenant out, the landlord must place a written notice on the tenant’s front door that states:
    1. The address of an on-site location where the tenant may go 24 hours a day to obtain a new key or a telephone number that will be answered 24 hours a day that the tenant can call to have a new key delivered within two hours after calling the number,
    2. The fact that the tenant must be provided a new key at any hour regardless of whether the tenant pays any of the delinquent rent, and
    3. The amount of rent and other charges for which the tenant is delinquent.

If the landlord fails to follow these procedures to the letter, including providing the tenant with a new key upon request, the tenant has the following remedies available to them:

  1. The tenant may recover possession or terminate the lease; and
  2. The tenant may recover from the landlord the sum of one month’s rent plus $500, actual damages, court costs, and reasonable attorney’s fees in a civil suit, minus any delinquent rent or other sums for which the tenant is liable to the landlord.
If the landlord fails to provide a tenant with a new key upon request, the tenant is entitled to the damages above plus an additional one month’s rent.

Bottom Line: Landlords and tenants alike should be aware of the law and abide by it, or it could be costly. Both parties have a duty to know their rights, their limitations, and their responsibilities and act accordingly- it makes for a great relationship!

Note: The above summation of the law comes from the Texas Property Code, Section 92.0081.

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Michelle Fulton is an attorney at The Fulton Law Firm, PLLC. If you have a legal problem you would like her to address, you may e-mail your request to or mail your request to her at 806 Hwy. 3, Houston, Texas 77058.

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