State laws govern real estate transactions between landlords and their tenants. To cancel a written real estate lease agreement, state laws require either party to provide notice prior to termination. In Texas, landlords and tenants may enter into written and oral lease agreements. For tenants to terminate their agreements before the end of their lease terms, they must prove their landlords breached their lease agreements by failing to comply with their duties to provide safe and habitable housing.
Texas law allows tenants to end their leases after providing three days' written notice to their landlords who breach the state re-key laws. A landlord in Texas has an obligation to re-key or change locks each time one tenant moves out and another moves in. The state re-key law requires him to change or re-key his apartment within seven days after a new tenant occupies his apartment. However, landlords have 72 hours to re-key or change locks for tenants who are victims of attempted burglaries, actual breaking and entering violations, or attempted breaking and entering violations.
Tenants’ Rights to Mandate Re-key
Under normal circumstances, landlords have up to seven days to change their tenants' locks after they begin their tenancies. They have three days to re-key when tenants are victims of attempted or real burglaries. Additionally, landlords have 72 hours to re-key all of the apartments in a building when there has been a break-in or attempted break-in within two months in any apartment in the building.
Notice of Termination
Tenants who are enforcing their 72-hour re-key rights must provide their landlords with written notice of the attempted violent crime, burglary, break-in, attempted break-in, attempted burglary or attempted violent crime. When landlords fail to re-key within 72 hours, tenants may unilaterally cancel their lease agreements. Landlords have rights to request payment prior to re-keying to cover the re-key charges but must usually charge their tenants after installing their new locks, and they must include their rights to assess reasonable charges in their lease agreements. Landlords must absorb the costs of re-keying between tenancies (first re-key).
Tenants who do not want to move and terminate their leases can use their equitable legal rights to repair and deduct the costs of changing their locks from their monthly rent payment. They may also file a lawsuit against their landlords for noncompliance and request re-key, damages, attorneys' fees and court costs. Texas courts may also order landlords to pay civil penalties of $500 and one month of rent to their tenants, including all tenants in one building if they failed to re-key all of their units after a criminal trespass.
Since state laws can frequently change, do not use this information as a substitute for legal advice. Seek advice through an attorney licensed to practice law in your jurisdiction.