What Happens in Austin Eviction Court?
I was unfortunately in eviction court a couple of weeks ago because one of my tenants decided to stop paying rent. Evictions in Texas are handled by County JP Courts (Justice of the Peace). These courts are similar to the entertainment “Judge” shows you see on TV, minus the (intended) entertainment element. But it is similar in that the Judge listens to two sides, tries to figure out what’s going on, and makes a decision.
In the case of evictions, two things are being decided. The first is possession of the property. The Judge will determine who has the legal right to possess the property – the landlord who filed the suit, or the tenant who wants to stay. The second issue is whether any back rents will be awarded to the landlord, creating a judgment against the tenant which can eventually appear on the tenant’s credit report.
Since landlords almost always seek possession because of unpaid rent, the outcome is almost always going to be that the landlord is awarded possession of the property plus rents owed up through the day of judgment.
That’s what happened in my case, but before my turn came, I had to sit through a bunch of other cases. These can get pretty interesting. I’ll provide a brief summary below.
A lawyer for a bank is evicting the occupants of a 4plex because the 4plex has been foreclosed and is now owned by the bank. Before the judge heard the case, the tenants, who had taken over paying the gas bill for the entire building after the former owner quit paying the bill, and had been paying their rent payment on time to the owner each month, not knowing that he wasn’t making the loan payments, went outside and worked out a deal.
They came back and informed the judge that the tenant would remain in the property for 50 more days, rent free, giving them time to find another place and move out.
Straight eviction, like mine. Tenant argued that he was trying to come up with the money but needed more time. Landlord says he’s heard that before and wants the tenant out. Judge ruled in favor of landlord, tenant must vacate the property.
Foreclosed owner being evicted by the new owner who purchased the home at auction. Foreclosed owner argues that she thought she had 30 days to move out after a foreclosure sale. This is not correct, as pointed out by the new owner. Judge agrees and finds in favor of the owner.
My Case – This is for a property I own. Tenant stopped paying rent, stopped responding to phone calls or emails. I filed eviction and he and his wife show up ready to inform the judge of what a bad person I am, and how they are “good Christians”. Judge found in my favor, tenant became irate and started yelling at me and the judge, narrowly missing a contempt charge before storming out and yelling at me some more in the parking lot.
I’ve done about 80 evictions in 20 years. I don’t mind tenants letting off some steam. It’s probably better that way. I’ve learned not to argue back but just to remain calm and agree with whatever they say.
Evicted Tenant: Your the worst landlord we’ve ever had.
Me: I’m sure that’s true and I’m sorry about that.
Evicted Tenant: I’m going to appeal and sue your a** for fraud.
Me: I’ll accept whatever verdict the judge hands down.
You get the point. Just go along and don’t argue. Make it to the truck and drive away politely.
Both sides really lose when an eviction is the final result of a lease. The tenant is forced out and the landlord incurs a turnover and lost rent. It’s not a good outcome for anyone, but it’s even a worse outcome for landlords who don’t move quickly to start the eviction process when rent is not paid.
For an overview of the steps to follow to evict a tenant for nonpayment of rent in Texas, click below for an article I wrote in March 2008. Steps for Tenant Eviction in Texas.