What is retaliation?

Retaliation occurs when the landlord wrongfully terminates the lease, files for eviction, deprives the tenant of the use of the premises, decreases services to a tenant, or increases the rent because (1) a tenant tries to exercise their rights under the lease, municipal ordinance, or federal or state laws; or (2) the tenant gave the landlord a notice to repair or notice that the tenant was exercising rights under chapter 92 of the Property Code; or (3) the tenant complained to a governmental entity, a public utility or a civil or nonprofit agency about a housing code violation; or (4) the tenant established, attempts to establish, or participates in a tenant organization. See Section 92.331(a) of the Property Code.

The protection from retaliation lasts for six months from the date of the tenant’s action.

It’s not retaliation if you broke your lease. The landlord can always terminate the lease and evict a tenant for lease violations. For example, if you don’t pay your rent, intentionally cause property damage, or threaten the personal safety of the landlord or employees, the landlord can evict you.

The landlord can increase the rent if the lease has a provision for an increase in the rent because of higher utility, tax or insurance costs. The landlord may also increase the rent or reduce services if it is part of a pattern of rent increases or service reductions for the whole complex.

If the landlord retaliates, what can I do?

Before you plan to take action against a landlord, always make sure your rent is completely current.

It is important to give repair notices in writing, date them, and make copies for your protection. If you call a government agency, it is also good to make a note of who you spoke to and the date and time of your call.

If the landlord illegally retaliates, you can write a letter to your landlord demanding it stop. You may also sue your landlord for: (1) a civil penalty of one month’s rent, plus $500; (2) actual damages; (3) the reasonable costs of moving to another place (if you were forced out); and (4) attorney’s fees and court costs, minus any amount you owe to the landlord. But remember, the landlord will win if they can prove that their actions were not for purposes of retaliation.

For more details check out the statutes on retaliation, starting at Section 92.331, Property Code.

Letter demanding retaliation stop (form letter here)

You can use this form letter to demand that any retaliatory action being taken against you stop. You can send it to the manager of the property, the management company, and even the owner of the property. This is easier, cheaper and faster than getting the courts involved, but if the landlord doesn’t stop retaliating, you may consider suing them (see below).

Lawsuit petition for retaliation (form petition here)

This form petition can be used to file suit in justice court requesting: a civil penalty of one month’s rent plus $500, actual damages, court costs, and reasonable attorney’s fees, moving costs (if you were forced to move). 

Justice court has a jurisdictional limit of $20,000 and is sometimes more friendly to landlords because they file evictions in their courts all the time. But, it is easier to represent yourself in justice court, cheaper to file the suit and you get to trial much quicker. There are instructions below, but see Sue Your Landlord to learn how to file the lawsuit and try the case in justice court.