Step #1: You receive notice to vacate
You should get a notice from your property owner or apartment complex manager asking you to vacate the apartment. Under Texas law, a property owner or apartment complex manager is required to give you a written notice to vacate before filing an eviction lawsuit. After you get the notice to vacate, consider whether or not you have any defenses to stay in your rental unit.
You may not have violated the lease as is claimed by the property owner or apartment complex manager. The property owner or apartment complex manager may not have given you a proper notice. Also, it is illegal to evict an apartment resident because the apartment resident requested repairs or called a housing inspector (retaliation). An eviction should also be denied if your property owner or apartment complex manager is discriminating against you based upon race, religion, disability, sex, national origin, color, or having children. The property owner or apartment complex manager also may have miscalculated the rent owed because of the abuse of late fees. Despite what some property owner or apartment complex managers say, there are defenses to an eviction suit. These and other issues are discussed more in Types of Eviction Defenses.
Step #2: Talk to your property owner or apartment complex manager
Try to talk to your property owner or apartment complex manager about the vacate notice, either to understand what happened or to see if you can get more time to fix the situation. You may want to ask the property owner or apartment complex manager to hold off on filing an eviction lawsuit in return for your fixing the apartment lease violation.
* For example, you may be able to stop the property owner or apartment complex manager from filing an eviction suit by paying rent that you might owe, getting rid of pets not allowed under the lease, or cutting down loud noise.
We have a form agreement you and your property owner or apartment complex manager can sign to hold off on an eviction while you correct the lease violation or agree to make payments on the rent you owe. It is best to put an agreement you reach in writing and have both you and the property owner or apartment complex manager sign it.
Step #3: You receive eviction suit papers from court
Once the property owner or apartment complex manager files an eviction suit, a constable will try to hand deliver the eviction suit papers to your home. If the constable or sheriff makes two (2) unsuccessful attempts, they should post the papers in a visible location on the outside of the rental unit or apartment and mail you a copy. (It is best to get the papers so you know what is happening. Avoiding being served does not delay the process and might result in you losing the case automatically if you do not know when or where to defend yourself.) Only the constable or the sheriff can legally deliver the eviction suit papers from the court.
You will need to make a decision about whether you want to fight the eviction suit. As soon as the property owner or apartment complex manager files an eviction suit on the apartment resident, it becomes a permanent court record and will likely become a part of your apartment rental history record for future rental applications. Of course, once it is filed, it is best to have it dismissed or have a judgment rendered in your favor. Even if you do not have defenses, you can often make an agreement that may result in a dismissal of the eviction case. This may help preserve your rental history, but the suit is still part of the public records.
If you choose to fight an eviction suit and lose, be aware that you may be responsible for court costs and the property owner's attorney's fees (if the property owner uses an attorney, and either the lease says the property owner or apartment complex manager can get attorney fees or the property owner or apartment complex manager gives you an 11 day notice to vacate by certified mail that specifically indicates you will be responsible for attorney fees). Tex. Property Code 24.006.
IMPORTANT: If any of the court papers you received is called something like "Bond for Possession" or "Possession Bond pursuant to Rule 740" you have to demand a trial; otherwise the property owner or apartment complex manager can obtain possession of the premises without a hearing. You must demand the trial in writing within 6 days of receiving the court papers. Even if the J.P. court has already set up the hearing, you still should request one in writing. This will ensure that if you lose, you get five days after the hearing to move out of your apartment or appeal. You can use the form answer we have provided to demand the trial. (Because many J.P. courts follow different procedures regarding possession bonds, you should contact an attorney to help you and also communicate with the court clerks to confirm how their court interprets the rule on possession bonds.)
Step #4: Answer the eviction suit
Once you receive the eviction suit papers (also known as an eviction citation and petition), make sure you read them carefully. The eviction citation is signed by the court clerk and will tell you when you have to appear in court. That date may or may not be your actual hearing date. You should call the court clerk and find out. In some counties you can answer the case any time prior to the deadline in person, in writing or even over the phone, and then the court will give you a date for your hearing. You can use our answer form to file a written answer. It other areas, you are required to go to court on the specific date and time. In these cases it is not necessary to file a written answer.
The date and time by which the apartment resident must answer the suit or appear for trial will be stated on the citation page of the eviction suit papers. Generally, the apartment resident will have between six to ten days to answer the eviction suit after the apartment resident receives the eviction papers. If the apartment resident does not answer or appear by the deadline given in the eviction papers, the court will award a default judgment against the apartment resident automatically.
If you want a jury trial, then you will have to go to the justice court within five days after receiving the eviction papers. You should file a request for a jury trial in writing and pay a $5.00 jury fee.
Note: If you were served with a "Bond for Possession" the rules are different. You must demand a trial within 6 days of receiving the bond. You can use an “answer form” to demand the trial. Then talk to the court clerks about when the hearing will be held. If you do not demand a trial, the property owner or apartment complex manager could obtain a court order to evict you from your apartment without a hearing at all.
Step #5: The eviction hearing
At the hearing you will need to be prepared to present your side of the story. Take your copy of the apartment lease agreement, any pictures, letters, documents, receipts, or witnesses to show the judge as evidence. Letters and even affidavits from witnesses may not be considered by the judge. You need to bring live persons with you if you want the court to hear what they have to say. You can request that the clerk issue a subpoena to compel the attendance of a witness at the hearing (the subpoena can be served by any person over 18, and not a party to the case). Constables charge fees (typically $40 to serve a subpoena).
The Justice of the Peace (the judge) or the jury will make a ruling (a final decision) after hearing the case. If the property owner wins, the law allows you five days to appeal the decision or move out of your apartment. If you win, the property owner or apartment complex manager also has five days to appeal the decision.