A property owner or manager of an apartment in Houston, Texas, can charge a reasonable late fee if an apartment resident pays rent after the due date and any grace period, according to your rental lease agreement.
If you do not pay your rent on the due date (or beyond the grace period), the property owner or apartment complex manager may have the discretion to either declare you in default under the apartment lease agreement, or accept the rent and the appropriate late fee.
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If you offer to pay the rent and appropriate late fees, and the property owner or apartment complex manager refuses to accept it and demands that you vacate, you may still have a chance in court in an eviction case. You should read the lease agreement of your apartment in Houston, Texas, carefully and argue that you offered to cure the problem according to the lease agreement.
A court may also consider your rent to be paid on time if you have established a clear and undisputed pattern of acceptance of late payment by your property owner or apartment complex manager. You should argue that if your property owner or apartment complex manager no longer wished to accept late payments, he/she should have given you some advance notice. A Houston apartment finder or Houston, Texas, apartment locator can work with you to understand these matters.
A late fee should not be more than $35 for being just one day late in a typical lease where rent is $500 per month, although there are no specific legal limits. Property owner or apartment complex managers probably can also charge additional fees for each day the rent is late.
Generally, the total amount of late fees in any one month should not be more than one quarter of a month's rent. But again, a court could consider higher fees to be acceptable or lower fees to be unacceptable, there is no sure answer. You could sue the property owner or apartment complex manager in court and claim that the late fees the property owner or apartment complex manager wants to charge are "unconscionable" and request that the court declare that lease provision void. You can also request the court award you penalties because if the late fee is improperly high the property owner or apartment complex manager may have violated the Texas Deceptive Trades Practices Act.
If you notice we have not provided any statutes that specifically talk about late fees because there are none. (Note that an apartment lease agreement is not a loan of money. Usury laws, which put limits on interest rates and fees for loans do not apply to leases.) The Texas Legislature has not addressed late fees; that leaves the courts to decide on an individual basis (unless the Texas Supreme Court addresses the issue).
In years past, when apartment resident/tenant advocates bring up the fact that many property owner or apartment complex managers charge unreasonable late fees with the Texas Legislature, your friends at the Texas Apartment Association (TAA) are there to help make sure that the maximum amount in the law would be very high. This would cause all the property owner or apartment complex managers in the state to raise their late fees to the maximum allowed. So rather than push this issue, apartment resident advocates have left it alone.
Late fee for nonpayment of late fee
Sometimes an apartment resident may not be aware a property owner or apartment complex manager has even charged an apartment resident a late fee, or sometimes an apartment resident disputes whether the rent was late. Some property owner or apartment complex managers deduct a late fee from the apartment resident's rent and then claim the apartment resident is behind on rent again. Then the property owner or apartment complex manager charges late fees again.
There are no Texas laws that specifically address this scam. However, a property owner or apartment complex manager may be in violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act if the property owner or apartment complex manager charges an extremely excessive late fee - especially late fees on late fees! A court also may also refuse to evict an apartment resident if the apartment resident has merely not paid an unreasonable late fee. (However, this is a very risky and is not the best strategy for challenging a late fee unless you simply don't have the money. Having an eviction even filed against you is harmful to any person’s apartment rental history whether you win or lose.)
Late fee deductions cannot bootstrap landlord self help remedies
A property owner or apartment complex manager should not deduct a late fee from rent to cause a default and then threaten some other action like a lockout, landlord lien, or utility shutoff for nonpayment of rent. A property owner or apartment complex manager is restricted in using these remedies, and they only are available when the apartment resident is actually behind on rent. A property owner or apartment complex manager may have provisions in the lease agreement allowing late fees or some other fee to be deducted first; however, the property owner or apartment complex manager cannot use this provision in order to claim nonpayment and use one of the self-help remedies described above.
A lease provision used in this manner is void according to the Texas Property Code. Of course, some property owner or apartment complex managers really do not care and will do anything to get money out of apartment residents or make them suffer. It is up to apartment residents to take action against these outlaws. For a detailed discussion of these property owner or apartment complex manager self-help remedies, check out our Renter’s Rights and Locks articles.