Can a Landlord Evict You Without a Court Order?
As a personal injury attorney, I have many clients who run into financial problems as I am working on their cases. Many times over the years, I have received the dreaded “FRIDAY AFTERNOON” calls that usually go something like this:
Client: “Hi Chris, I know you’re working on my case, but I need to borrow some money today or my landlord is kicking me out on Monday. I got a ‘3-day notice!’”
Me: “Your landlord cannot kick you out by Monday. Let’s talk.”
If you find yourself in the same situation, you need to know your rights. Here’s how the system works in Texas:
Texas Eviction Process
First, the landlord needs a reason. You have a right to the quiet enjoyment of your property, and if you’ve paid your rent and haven’t broken the lease (you did sign a lease, right?) then usually they can’t just evict. So check your lease first. Even if you read it when you signed it, read it again. And even if you did not sign a lease, you still have rights.
Next, the landlord has to give you a written notice to vacate. This has to be done before there is an eviction lawsuit, but the written notice doesn’t mean you have to leave. The court will decide that. The first thing you should do at this point is to try and work something out with your landlord. If you’re behind on the rent, see if you can find a way to get caught up. It’s important to remember that even if you are totally in the right, having an eviction lawsuit filed against you can make it very hard to find another landlord that will rent to you. These lawsuits are public records, and landlords will check. Sometimes the best thing to do is just walk away, and if you contact your landlord and tell them that you will move voluntarily you may be able to work something out as far as how long you can stay. The landlord doesn’t want to go through the expense of filing, and you don’t want it on your record.
If nothing can be worked out, the landlord will have you served with eviction papers, which is an actual lawsuit filed against you in J.P. Court. The sheriff or constable will make a couple of attempts and then attach the notice to your door. (No matter what you may have seen on TV, it does you no good at all to dodge this notice. Just accept it). If the papers say something about “possession bond”, then you have six days to request a trial. Call the court and find out what is required, but don’t let this slide. If you don’t request a trial, you’re out on the street.
Next, you will need to answer the lawsuit in writing. In some counties you will be given a specific date to appear, in others, you can file a written response before the court date. Call the J.P. court clerk and find out as these people are usually quite helpful since most people appear in J.P. Court without an attorney. You will generally have 6 to 10 days to answer the lawsuit, and if you don’t answer – you lose.
There will be a hearing (trial) – this is where you present your defense to the eviction. Think of it as a “Judge Judy” type of ordeal. If you have witnesses, bring them. If you have written proof that the rent has been paid, bring it. You do not have to be knowledgeable about the rules of evidence in J.P. Court – in fact, since J.P.’s in Texas don’t have to be lawyers, chances are that the judge won’t know the rules of evidence either. The loser in this contest will have five days to appeal. You will have to post a bond if you appeal.
If you lose, after the 5 days are over, you will get a 24-hour notice from the sheriff or constable. Once your 24 hours are up, the landlord can put your property on the curb and have you removed from the property.
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So if you find yourself on the receiving end of a “3-day notice,” just understand that like most things in the law, the situation is not as it appears. If you do absolutely nothing recommended in this post, you likely have probably another month before you will be forcibly evicted.