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.

Case 1

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.

Case 2

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.

Case 3

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.

Steve Crossland

Steve is a Real Estate Blogger, UT Austin Grad, Real Estate Broker and owner of Crossland Team and Crossland Real Estate in Austin TX.

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Todd - 9 years ago

From the perspective of a tenant, I can appreciate that landlords need to “move quickly to start the eviction process when rent is not paid,” but I’d be interested to hear what you think is a proper response when a landlord sends an erroneous notice to vacate.

While living in Austin, I’ve been served two mistaken notices to vacate (once each from two different management companies). I always send rent certified mail, so I had a paper trail to prove the companies had in fact received rent on time.

One company sent a letter apologizing for the mistake and rescinding the notice to vacate, and I even received a phone call from the company’s director also apologizing (which was nice, but I was only interested in getting the notice rescinded). The other company, which had misfiled the check it received instead of depositing it, only sent a receipt dated to when they located the check–not the day they received it–so in terms of the management company’s paperwork it still looks like the rent was paid late. Despite requesting that they send a letter rescinding the notice to vacate and acknowledging their error, no such letter was forthcoming.

I’m sure mistaken notices to vacate are rare, but it seems like the proper thing for property managers to do in such cases (at a minimum) is to rescind in writing the notice to vacate. How would you suggest management companies respond in the case that they send a notice to vacate in error?

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Steve Crossland - 9 years ago

Hi Todd,

Unless an eviction was actually filed, the erroneous Notice to Vacate has no bearing on anything unless it remains in the property management company’s files. It’s just a “woops”.

If I were to make such a mistake (which would be extremely unlikely,) I’d provide a written clarification to the tenant as you requested. It would be important for you to know that some future employee would not misinterpret the tenant history and provide a negative landlord reference about you in the future.
Steve

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Benny - 7 years ago

Question. We are home owners in West Lake Hills, and in doing an application, we were
denied because of an Eviction Notice that was on public record. We have rented one apt.
in last 20 years. It was at Escalon At Canyon Creek on FM 620 for a year back around
2010. We completed the year lease and with 2 months notice, did “walk through” and
later received our deposit back less apt. water charges. Where could we find out this
information on “public records”?? We are at a loss.

Thanks for your info if you have time.

Reply
Steve Crossland - 7 years ago

Benny,

Call the JP Court that serves the address where you once rented and see when you can go in to review the records. Many landlords use screening services that report even the filing of an eviction that never actually occurred, but the record of filing remains. Also the eviction searches are done by name, so a similarly or same named person would come up on your search. We see “false positives” regularly, but usually for people with common last names.
Steve

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