San Antonio evictions can be unpleasant for both landlords and tenants. While you might not want to think about the process you’ll follow in case of eviction, it’s important to be prepared. A good way to reduce the risk of having to evict a tenant is with excellent tenant screening. When you place someone with a record of paying rent on time and taking care of properties, you probably won’t have to worry about eviction. It’s also important to enforce your lease and be consistent. Communicate with tenants so they feel comfortable talking to you if rent is going to be late.
Even if you have a great tenant screening process in place and you work well with your tenants, things happen. If your tenants are unable to pay the rent, you must understand the legal process and follow it closely.
There are several reasons you might evict a tenant. You can evict for nonpayment of rent, violations of the lease agreement, criminal activity at the house, or because there’s excessive property damage. The most common reason to evict a tenant, however, is because that tenant isn’t paying rent.
San Antonio Eviction: What the Texas Property Code Says
Chapter 24 of the Texas Property Code addresses eviction and provides the legal requirements that landlords must note. You’ll see the term forcible detainer, which is the legal definition of an eviction. When you familiarize yourself with this part of the Texas Property Code, you’ll understand what you must do to legally evict a tenant. Some of the highlights include:
- You must deliver written notice before filing a court action.
- You must deliver that notice properly.
- You must request a Writ of Possession before changing the locks and removing the tenant.
- You can ask for a judgment if there’s a balance owed after eviction.
- The sheriff can help you remove a tenant from your property.
As a landlord or a property owner, you are not required to have professional legal advice or a lawyer to represent you in a forcible detainer action in court. However, we recommend that you seek advice from a San Antonio property manager or an attorney who specializes in real estate and eviction law. All it takes is one mistake, and your case is thrown out. You’ll have to start over, and that will only delay the process and cost you more money in both fees and unpaid rent. Get professional advice and do it right.
You need a strong lease in place, especially when you’re trying to collect unpaid rent or evict a tenant. We always tell our owners that a strong lease specific to Texas is critical. If your lease does not comply with Texas law, you’re going to have a difficult time enforcing it or asking a judge to enforce it in court.
Tenant Communication and Late Rent
Communication is critical to avoiding eviction and expediting the payment of rent. Your lease should indicate when rent is due and allow for a grace period of at least one day, as required by Texas law. Once that grace period has come and gone and you still have not received the rent, you are permitted to charge a late fee. Make sure that late fee is included in your lease so tenants know to expect it. At this point, you want to call or text your tenants. Remind them that rent hasn’t been paid and ask when you can expect it. Perhaps your tenants simply forgot that it was time to pay rent, and will catch up right away.
Remember to stay calm during this conversation. Instead of angrily screaming for your money, simply tell the tenant why you’re calling. Be sympathetic to any excuse you hear, and remember that the ultimate goal is to get the rent paid. Be direct, and find out when the tenant will be able to pay the rent in full. If your tenant becomes hostile, remain professional. You can refer to the lease or to Texas law when you’re explaining what the tenant’s responsibilities are and what your next steps will be.
If the tenant cannot pay rent or has no intention of paying rent, he or she might try to claim that you haven’t made a repair or the property isn’t in habitable condition. This is why it’s so important to document inspections, conversations, and maintenance requests. Keep your conversation positive, if you can. Be sure to document it for your files, and move onto the next step. Even if the tenant has promised to pay in a week or in two days, you want to always be moving onto the next step in case you do ultimately have to evict.
Serve Tenants a Notice to Vacate
Your first step in the legal eviction process is to deliver your tenant a Notice to Vacate. This written notice must be served before you can file any lawsuit in court to have the tenant removed. The notice itself is straightforward. Your notice must state the reason the tenant must vacate and provide instructions to do so. Delivery can sometimes become difficult. You have several different options when you’re serving a Notice to Vacate in San Antonio:
- Physically hand it to someone at the property who is at least 16 years of age. Document that you’ve done this.
- Tape or affix the notice to the inside of the front door (not a screen door). Mail a copy as well.
- Send the notice through the mail. You don’t have to use certified mail, but it’s a good way to document that it was delivered.
Once you properly serve your Notice to Vacate, the tenant has three days to respond. Things will either get easier for you or more complicated, depending on how the tenant responds.
Dealing with the Court System
Evictions are handled through the San Antonio county courts, so you’ll be working with the Bexar County court system. File your forcible detainer lawsuit in the region where your rental property is located. Every county and precinct is a little bit different in how they manage their procedures, but you can count on a few things to be the same. The information you are required to provide will stay the same no matter where you’re filing. Be prepared to provide:
- Tenant’s name and contact information.
- Landlord’s name and contact information.
- Rental property address.
- Reason for eviction.
- Amount owed by tenant.
- Date tenant moved into the property.
You’ll need to disclose if the tenant is a member of the military, and you’ll have to pay a filing fee, which is usually not much more than $100. You are permitted to include a demand for damages if the tenant owes you under $10,000 in unpaid rent or repair costs from damages. Turn all of your information into the county clerk, and wait to hear about your court date.
Next, you’ll have a hearing scheduled. The tenant will be notified, and you’ll both be expected to show up at court. This is what you’ve been waiting for, so make sure you’re prepared. You should have a copy of the lease, your rent records, the Notice to Vacate, any evidence that supports your claim the tenant hasn’t paid rent, and notes on any conversations you’ve had or attempts to collect the rent.
In some cases, your tenants won’t show up for the hearing. If they do attend and you make your case, the judge will rule in your favor. The tenant will then be given five days to leave your property, and you’ll win a judgment for any outstanding debts that are owed. The tenant has the option to appeal the ruling, and if the judge happens to rule against you, you’ll also have five days to appeal.
Filing for a Writ of Possession
Your tenants will hopefully accept the court’s ruling and move out within those five days. But, if your San Antonio tenants don’t vacate as ordered, you’ll need to get a Writ of Possession from the court. Send that Writ to the constable, and schedule a time for the constable to physically remove your tenants. Have a crew ready to move out the tenant’s property as well, and be prepared to change the locks. Unless your lease specifically states what will happen to the tenant’s property, you’ll want to talk to a lawyer about how to handle what was left behind in the home.
We think professional San Antonio property management can help you avoid situations like this. Professional property managers often have lower eviction rates that independent landlords. We do a better job of screening tenants, and we have more time to keep a close eye on the property and your tenants. If eviction does become necessary, we can move quickly and professionally, keeping a buffer zone between you and your tenants.
If you’re not working with a property manager and you aren’t sure what to do when your tenants stop paying rent, we recommend you talk to an attorney. Texas is generally a landlord-friendly state, but you don’t want to test that in a court of law. If you have any questions about effectively and legally evicting tenants from your rental property, please contact us at Specialized Property Management.