Texas is a relatively pro-landlord state when it comes to commercial lease disputes and evictions. Notably, a landlord has a statutory right to lock out a commercial tenant who fails to pay part or all of the rent on time. But changing the locks is not the same thing as an eviction. Landlords still have to take certain legal steps to completely evict the tenant and regain possession of the property.
Lockout Procedures & Leases
The Texas Property Code specifies the process for locking out a tenant due to delinquent rent. After changing the locks, the landlord is required to post a written notice on the tenant’s front door. This notice must contain the name, address, and telephone number of the person who can give the tenant a new key once any back rent is paid. This person must provide the key upon payment, but only during the tenant’s “regular business hours.”
The notice requirement is critical. If a landlord fails to post the notice, the lockout is considered illegal. The tenant can ask a Texas court for immediate permission to reenter the property in an ex parte proceeding–i.e., without giving advance notice to the landlord. The landlord can still ask for a hearing afterwards, but if the judge rules in favor of the tenant, the tenant may be allowed to terminate the lease and recover damages equal to the greater of one month’s rent or $500, in addition to the tenant’s legal fees.
While the Property Code specifies the general rules governing landlord lockouts, it is important to follow the terms of the lease. Indeed, in the event of a conflict between Texas statutory requirements and the lease, the latter controls. For example, if the lease says that the tenant has a “grace period” of five days to pay any rent owed, the landlord cannot change the locks one day after the rent is overdue, even though that may be permitted under the Code. If the landlord violates the terms of the lease, the tenant can seek the same remedies as if the landlord failed to follow the notice requirements for lockouts.
If a lockout is not sufficient, a landlord may initiate an eviction lawsuit–known as a forcible detainer proceeding in Texas–against the tenant. Before filing a forcible detainer action, the landlord must give the tenant at least three days written notice to vacate the property. Again, if the lease specifies a different notice period, then that is what the landlord must follow. The lease may also permit the tenant an “opportunity to respond to the eviction notice” before the landlord can seek forcible detainer.
If the landlord is successful in pursuing a forcible detainer action, the court will issue a writ of possession. This is basically an order instructing the local sheriff or police constable to post a notice on the door of the leased premises informing the tenant of their eviction. The writ itself will generally not be executed until at least six days after the court issues its judgment.
The sheriff’s notice will specify the exact date and time for the execution of the writ, which must be at least 24 hours after the notice is given. Once the writ is executed, the tenant must vacate and remove all personal property from the premises. The police may use “reasonable force” to carry out the eviction. If necessary, the police may remove and store the tenant’s physical property in a warehouse at no cost to the landlord.
What If the Tenant Abandons the Property?
In many cases, a tenant who falls behind on the rent will not try to fight eviction. Instead, the tenant may simply abandon the premises, even leaving their equipment and other personal property behind. If that happens, the landlord does not need to go through the process of filing a forcible detainer action.
Texas commercial leasing laws state that a tenant is “presumed to have abandoned the premises” if it removes a “substantial” amount of goods and equipment outside the “normal course” of its business, to the point where the landlord may infer a “probable intent” to abandon. If the tenant abandons, the landlord is free to remove and store any of the tenant’s remaining personal property. If the tenant does not claim its property within 60 days of removal, the landlord is free to dispose of it after giving notice to the tenant by certified mail.
Do You Need Help With a Commercial Eviction Dispute?
While the rules governing commercial evictions in Texas are relatively straightforward, specific cases will depend on the terms of the lease between the parties. An experienced Dallas commercial lease and lease dispute attorney can advise you of your legal rights and the steps to take next, whether you are the landlord or the tenant. Contact the offices of Lindquist Wood Edwards LLP at 214-382-9789 to talk to a lawyer now.