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New Year, New Laws - 2016

Here are some things Houston apartment owners and managers need to know this year. 

Open carry, resources available

Most notably, holders of handgun licenses in Texas may now “open carry” handguns in belt or shoulder holsters. Property owners, however, have the right to ban open carry on their property by providing notice either through signs, written documentation or verbal notice (similar to provisions allowing owners to ban concealed handguns). TAA has prepared a sign templates and an addendum for residents. The article and sign are included in the 2016-2017 TAA REDBOOK and REDBOOK Online. The addendum is available on TAA Click & Lease and in the TAA REDBOOK Online.

Surety bond changes

Other laws taking effect include a number of changes affecting landlord/tenant relations. Of most significance, thanks to affirmative legislation sought by the Texas Apartment Association it will now be harder for residents who use a surety bond when appealing an eviction to potentially abuse the system. Going forward, a resident who appeals with a surety bond will be required to pay an initial deposit of rent and court costs into the Justice of the Peace Court registry. There is also now a process for an owner to contest a surety bond within five days after it has been filed to ensure the financial integrity of the bond.

Delivery of notices to vacate

In addition, an owner or manager providing a notice to vacate will now have the option of placing a notice to vacate on the outside of a door in evictions in which the owner reasonably believes there is a threat to safety if the notice is delivered personally or by placing the notice inside a door.

To meet the law’s requirements an owner must securely affix the notice to the outside of the door in a sealed envelope clearly addressed and marked as an “important document.” The owner must also place a copy of the notice in the mail to the resident the same day by 5 p.m., but the notice is considered delivered as of the date it is posted and deposited in the mail.

Other landlord/tenant law changes

A series of other agreed-to changes to the Property Code include: (1) clarifying notice regarding security deposits given to residents when there is a change in ownership; (2) requiring notice to a resident (when there is no security deposit in place) at the time of or before reporting a claim for damages and other charges to a third-party debt collector reporting to a credit bureau; (3) allowing residents additional ways to send notice for habitability claims; (4) prohibiting an owner from requiring a resident to give up the resident’s rights to a jury trial under Chapter 92 of the Property Code; and (5) increasing the penalty for an improper contractual landlord lien.

There was also a minor change to the security device statute to remove the option for residents to request pin locks on sliding glass doors (at the resident’s expense) and allowing property owners to charge a resident who breaches a lease the cost of rekeying a lock provided there is proper lease language. Changes involving security devices do not generally alter a rental property owner’s obligations regarding required security devices at the time of original occupancy and during the duration of occupancy.

Limited liability for renting to some ex-offenders

One other bill going into effect limits liability for rental property owners who choose to rent to non-violent ex-offenders. Under the legislation, property owners can’t be held liable just because they rent to someone convicted of a crime. The bill’s provisions do not preclude a cause of action for negligence, if the rental property owner knew or should have known of a conviction and if the resident was convicted of violent crimes or other crimes like sexual offenses requiring registration.

Tax changes for business owners

Business owners will see a cut in the franchise tax. Under Gov. Greg Abbott’s leadership, legislators cut the business franchise tax rate by 25 percent. The threshold for franchise tax payers who use the EZ form was also increased from $10 million in gross revenues to $20 million, and the EZ filers rate was cut from .0575 percent to .0331 percent. These rate cuts will be effective for reports due after January 1, 2016 (i.e., 2015 taxes).

You are the eyes and ears of HAA! Let us know if your property – especially those in smaller cities throughout the Houston area – encounters a new inspection, a new fee, or any proposed change in your relationship with local government. Help us help you! Contact us at govaffairs@haaonline.org.