Recently, I was involved in a classic retaliation case. An apartment tenant requested information from an apartment in accordance with the state statute to correct a deficiency with the apartment.
The apartment management was unresponsive to the tenant’s request. The tenant then requested the apartment owner’s address, as provided by a city ordinance which stated a tenant was allowed to send a letter to the owner stating their claim. The tenant was not behind in rent. This is an important requirement for a tenant to prove landlord retaliation in Texas.
Upon the tenant requesting the apartment owner’ s address, the apartment manager immediately called the corporate management for guidance. The corporate manager instructed the apartment manager to terminate the tenant’s lease and give the tenant a 30 day notice immediately. The apartment manager complied and issued the 30 day notice to the tenant within an hour of the tenant’s request for the owner’ s address.
Until that moment the tenant had been considered a good tenant. The tenant was also current in their rent and the tenant had never been behind in payment of the tenant’s rent. The tenant complied and moved out of the apartment within the 30 days the apartment specified in the notice to leave the apartment.
This case would have ended there except, the apartment then demanded the tenant pay several thousand dollars for the tenant moving out of the apartment. The apartment claimed that the tenant had acted in bad faith by relying upon the security deposit to pay the last half of the following month’s rent. The apartment treated the tenant’s leaving as a breach of the contract.
In Texas, it is presumed to be bad faith for a tenant to count on the security deposit to pay the last month’s rent. But when the landlord constructively evicted the tenant for requesting the owners address as allowed by law (when the tenant was not behind in rent, and in fact the tenant had paid through the end of the month in which the notice to vacate was given), the apartment had retaliated.
Tenant’s Claim for Damages
The reality of the situation was the apartment complex created this situation. Under the Texas Property Code Retaliation Section, the tenant was entitled to the following damages: one month’ s rent; a statutory penalty; actual damages; court costs; reasonable attorney’ s fees; moving costs; and actual expenses.
The apartment complex was entitled to subtract the 1/2 month rent due for the last 15 days of the tenancy) from the damages that the tenant was entitled. Unfortunately, the odds were against the tenant based upon the tenant represented themselves pro se while the apartment was represented by a very competent downtown attorney. The attorney argued that the tenant was not entitled to even moving costs because eventually the tenant would have to move. The Texas property code, however, stated the tenant was entitled to this damage payment.
The tenants made a strategic move to settle the case based upon a payment by the apartment of a small monetary amount. Had this tenant been represented by competent counsel it is my belief the tenant would have received closer to the $10,000 they originally were seeking when they filed the suit.
The tenant had knowledge of the Texas Property Code Retaliation section, but did not understand that the law was on their side.
The Law Office of Robert B. Goss through it’s Texas Consumer Law practice could have aided the tenants in this matter had they come to this firm before filing suit pro se.