When I was first married and had an infant, we sold our home and rented a quaint duplex to get a fresh start (a bachelor pad can never be converted to a home). The duplex was fine except for a wet spot which appeared on the ceiling in my baby daughter’s room. I called the landlord and he said he had just repaired the roof and yada yada. A few weeks go by and I notice mold or algae growing about my daughter’s crib. Still no response from the landlord. I found a copy of the Texas Property Code and started reading about landlord and tenant issues. I discovered that the landlord was liable for any repairs not performed that could affect the health of an occupant. I drafted a nice note referencing the statute and reminding the landlord that my baby was only a couple weeks and if anything happened to her because of what she was breathing he would be liable. He quickly invited me to his office where we sat down to discuss the matter. He opens with, “do you have an attorney?” I said “no” He said “where did you go to college” I said “what does that have to do with anything?” Well …he said, if you have a lawyer or threatening legal action, maybe I need a lawyer”. I said “no you don’t, just fix the stupid ceiling”.
The ceiling was fixed, but here is the moral of the story. I don’t know what the legal advice would have cost me, perhaps a few dollars, or perhaps more. Instead of turning to a lawyer I asked one to guide me. He led me to the answers and I used them to my advantage. I got the landlord’s attention, very quickly. In addition, this landlord knew from that day on that I played for real and he should think twice about any other monkey business.
The very next home we moved into was a nice sized, three bedroom home with a garage and a yard. The owner was a sweet older woman with too much money. When she wasn’t at her ranch or one of her properties, she was paying her son to leave her alone. Not a bad living for a single 35 year old guy. When we moved out, there was one small blemish in the kitchen but she accused us of every defect that she could find which existed when we moved in. Always get the landlord to sign an inventory of what’s wrong when you move in. Luckily this landlord didn’t understand the law. In Texas, landlords have 30 days to either :
- Return any left over deposit with an inventory of what was withheld and why, or
- Return the entire deposit.
Otherwise, the landlord forfeits the right to withhold any of the deposit and faces treble (3x) damages and attorneys fees. After a few weeks I kindly informed her of this statute. She wrote me back saying “don’t you threaten me, I told you I get those estimates as soon as I could”. After her thirty days were up she sent a letter with no itemization saying the repairs were more than the deposit. We sued, she hired a lawyer, and she filed a “general denial”. We got our full deposit back and $500 for an attorney three days before our court date. If you live in Texas see the Texas Property Code for more details.