House Rules

Generally

House Rules, Apartment Regulations, and Community Policies are all the same thing -- rules of the landlord. Even though these are not usually in the lease documents you signed, they are often made a part of the lease by reference (if the rules are not referenced and you are not given a copy when you sign the lease, then the rules legally should not be applied to you).

Before you sign the lease, ask for a copy of the rules. If the rules have not been written down, ask the landlord to write them down, and have the landlord sign and date the document. Having written rules will prevent the landlord from changing the rules in the middle of your lease. In general, most house rules are enforceable as long as they do not illegally discriminate. See Discrimination.  For example, sometimes a landlord will improperly require families with children to occupy certain units or require the tenant to lease a unit with more bedrooms than necessary. A landlord is allowed to set reasonable rules regarding occupancy, but at some point these rules could violate fair housing laws.

Rules may be unenforceable if they are completely unreasonable. For example, some lower courts have considered a broad curfew on adults unreasonable. But, if you feel a landlord's rules are unreasonable, it may be safer to follow them temporarily and move rather than attempt to challenge them, unless you have an attorney or tenant organization to back you up. It is never good to be a defendant in an eviction case (even if you win court records will show that a case was filed against you).

But most all rules clearly made a part of the lease are likely to be upheld by the courts. And if you violate a house rule, even once, the landlord could attempt to terminate your right to possession of the premises and attempt to evict you.  Certainly, a minor violation is likely to be overlooked by a landlord; however, be aware that you take risks when you ignore the rules. A landlord can fail to renew a lease or may terminate a month-to-month lease by giving a 30-day notice for most any reason and a court will probably uphold that decision. There are some exceptions: Retaliation, Discrimination.

Rules easily changed in month-to-month leases, but not in the middle

A landlord can also change the rules easily if you are renting month-to-month by just giving you 30 days advanced notice of the change. That may seem unfair because it is often expensive to move and time consuming to find another place that may be more acceptable. Since when does fairness matter in landlord-tenant relationships?

A landlord cannot change the rules in the middle of a lease agreement without your agreement. Ultimately, it is your decision whether to accept the new rules. If you accept them, then the landlord is more likely to renew your lease when it expires. However, if you fail to accept the change in the rules in the middle of the lease, a landlord may fail to renew your lease or charge you more rent in the future when the lease expires. Unfortunately, this is likely to be legal.

Rules on cars and other outdoor property cannot be changed without clear notice

The Texas Legislature recently enacted a law requiring landlords to give prior written notice to a tenant regarding a landlord rule or policy change that is not included in the lease agreement and that will affect any personal property owned by the tenant that is located outside the tenant's dwelling, including any change in vehicle towing rules or policies.  A landlord who fails to give notice as required by this section is liable to the tenant for any expense incurred by the tenant as a result of the landlord's failure to give the notice. Section 92.013, Property Code.  There are additional towing rule changes for multi-unit apartment complexes. Section 92.0131.

Of course, a landlord cannot change the rules in the middle of a lease term, just like tenants cannot shorten the length of a lease without consequences. And clearly the landlord should notify a tenant of any change in the rules before the tenant renews the lease, otherwise the rule would not be enforceable against the tenant. Thus, Section 92.013 is a statement of the obvious, and most likely the result of a mad legislator who had his car towed because the rules on where to park it changed. The landlord would probably have been liable for towing the car with this law, but this legislator probably just wanted to make a point to the landlords.

Limits on occupants who live on the premises

The landlord can limit the number of occupants who live in the house or apartment. The maximum number should depend on the number of bedrooms and the age of the occupants. Texas law generally gives a landlord the ability to set occupancy to three adults (persons over 18) for each bedroom of the dwelling. Section 92.010, Property Code.  The landlord can set lower standards, as long as he does not illegally discriminate. For example, if a couple living in a one bedroom apartment have a baby in the middle of their lease, the landlord probably cannot require the couple to move to a two-bedroom apartment because this may unfairly penalize them merely because they had a child. See Discrimination.

Limits on visitors

A landlord generally cannot limit visitors as long as they do not disturb other residents or violate some other provision of the lease. However, a tenant should be careful not to have the same visitor spend the night too many times in a row without the landlord's permission, otherwise, the landlord may consider the visitor as an unauthorized occupant. Certainly, a visitor should not get mail or other deliveries at the premises, as this will surely arouse suspicion. Too many visitors (even as few as three an hour) might be incorrectly perceived as illegal drug activity. Although the landlord has the burden to prove that a tenant has violated the lease in an eviction case, a tenant may be wise to avoid these disputes from arising in the first place. (And, the landlord can always refuse to renew the lease based upon a suspicion so long as it is not illegally retaliating or discriminating. The landlord does not need any proof, just a desire not to rent to the tenant any more.) Therefore, a tenant should consider explaining the situation to a landlord to remove suspicion rather than becoming offended by a landlord's questions and not cooperating. See Termination, Eviction for more info.