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Rent Smart Austin | Apartment Experts Apartment Locators

Locks and Security

If you are curious about your rights and needs for safe locks, the Austin Tenants Council provides some excellent information-

The Texas Property Code, Subchapter D, Sections 92.151 – 92.170, guarantees tenants the right to certain locks, also known as security devices. This brochure defines each security device and explains which security devices are required in every rental dwelling and which additional locks the landlord has to install at the tenant’s expense. A tenant can never waive the right to the security devices described in this brochure, even if a lease claims the landlord does not have to provide them.

SECURITY DEVICES

Security Devices the Landlord Is Required to Pay For
Every rental unit in Texas should be equipped with the following security devices:

1. One window latch on each exterior window in the dwelling;
2. A doorknob lock or keyed deadbolt on each exterior door*;
3. A keyless bolting device (i.e. a keyless deadbolt) on each exterior door**;
4. A door viewer on each exterior door;
5. A pin lock AND either a handle latch or a security bar on each exterior sliding glass door; and

A landlord is required to change or rekey locks within seven days of a new tenant moving in.

* The landlord does not have to install any additional keyed locks if at least one exterior door usable for normal entry has both a keyed deadbolt and a keyless bolting device, and all other exterior doors have a keyless bolting device at the time the tenant agrees to lease the dwelling.

** The only exception to not installing a keyless bolting device is when the tenant is older than 55 years or has a mental or physical disability and the written lease requires or allows the landlord to check on the health or well-being of the tenant.

Tenant Remedies if the Landlord Does Not Install or Rekey a Required Security Device
If the landlord fails to install a required security device or fails to rekey a lock after the tenant turnover date and the tenant does not owe the landlord any money, the tenant may, without written request:

1. Install or rekey the security device and deduct the cost of material, labor, taxes and extra keys from the tenant’s next rent payment; and
2. File suit against the landlord for compliance and obtain a judgment for:
* A court order directing the landlord to comply (available only in county and district courts);
* Actual damages;
* Court costs; and
* Attorney’s fees (except in suits for recovery of property damages, personal injuries, or wrongful death).

If a tenant serves a landlord with a written request to install or rekey a security device, the landlord has three days to comply. However, if the lease contains a provision that is underlined or in bold print and notifies the tenant of the rights described thus far, the landlord has seven days to comply. If the landlord does not comply with the tenant’s written request and the tenant does not owe the landlord any money, the tenant may:

1. Unilaterally terminate the lease without court proceedings; and
2. File suit against the landlord for compliance and obtain a judgment for:
* A court order directing the landlord to comply (available only in county and district courts);
* Actual damages;
* Punitive damages (if actual damages suffered);
* Civil penalty of one month’s rent plus $500;
* Court costs; and
* Attorney’s fees (except when the suit seeks damages for property, personal injuries, or wrongful death).

Changing the Locks After an Actual or Attempted Break-In
The tenant may request a landlord install or rekey a lock after an actual or attempted break-in in the tenant’s unit, or an actual or attempted break-in or a crime of personal violence in the apartment complex within the past two months. If the tenant notifies the landlord of the actual or attempted break-in at the time of the request and the tenant has made any required advance payment, the landlord must comply with the request within three days.

Security Devices the Tenant Must Pay For
A landlord is required to install or rekey certain security devices, but the tenant must pay for them. However, the landlord may not charge more than the total cost of labor, material, taxes, and extra keys. At the tenant’s request and if the tenant does not owe the landlord any money, a landlord must install:

1. A keyed deadbolt on an exterior door if the door has:
* A doorknob lock but not a keyed deadbolt or
* A keyless bolting device but not a keyed deadbolt or doorknob lock (see * above);
2. A security bar on each exterior sliding glass door if the door already has a pin lock and a handle latch; and
3. Additional rekeying of a lock as many times as the tenant wants.

The tenant is only required to pay for the installation or rekeying of locks described above. The landlord may require advance payment if a written lease authorizes such advance payment and the tenant is either more than 30 days delinquent in reimbursing the landlord for previous lock changes or the same lock has been changed within the previous 30 days.

Tenant Remedies if the Landlord Does Not Repair, Add, or Rekey a Security Device Requested by the Tenant
If within seven days of receiving the tenant’s request the landlord fails to repair, install, or rekey a security device requested by the tenant and the tenant does not owe the landlord any money, the tenant may:

1. Repair, install or rekey the security device and deduct the cost of material, labor, taxes, and extra keys from the next month’s rent payment;
2. Unilaterally terminate the lease without court proceedings; and
3. File suit against the landlord and get a judgment for:
* A court order for landlord’s compliance;
* Actual damages;
* Punitive damages (if actual damages suffered);
* Civil penalties of one month’s rent plus $500;
* Court costs; and
* Attorney’s fees (except in suits for recovery of property damages, personal injuries, or wrongful death).

How to Request a Security Device
No matter what security device the tenant is asking for, it is best to do it in writing. The tenant should keep a copy of the letter and mail the original to the landlord certified mail, return receipt requested. The tenant may use another delivery method, such as hand-delivery, but it is best to have proof the landlord received the request.

Miscellaneous
Except as provided in this brochure, a tenant cannot alter or install any security device without the landlord’s permission. Any alterations the tenant makes become a permanent fixture of the dwelling and cannot be removed when the tenant vacates.

SECURITY DEVICES

Security Devices Defined
The Texas Property Code provides the following definitions of the security devices found in Chapter 92, Subchapter D:

* Sliding door pin lock means a lock, consisting of a pin or a nail inserted from the interior side of the door at the side opposite the door’s handle and that is designed to prevent the door from being opened or lifted.
* Window latch means a device on a window that prevents the window from being opened and that is operated without a key and only from the interior.
* Door viewer means a permanently installed device in an exterior door that allows a person inside the dwelling to view a person outside the door.
* Rekey means to change or alter a security device that is operated by a key, card, or combination so that a different key, card, or combination is necessary to operate the security device.
* Sliding door handle latch means a latch or lock that is located near the handle on a sliding glass door, operated with or without a key, and designed to prevent the door from being opened.
* Sliding door security bar means a bar or rod that can be placed at the bottom of or across the interior side of the fixed panel of a sliding glass door and that is designed to prevent the door from being opened.
* Tenant turnover date means the date a new tenant moves into a dwelling under a lease after all previous tenants have moved out.
* Keyed deadbolt means either:
1. A door lock not in the doorknob that locks with a bolt into the doorjamb and is operated from the exterior by a key, card, or combination and from the interior without a key, card, or combination; or
2. A doorknob lock that contains a bolt with at least a one-inch throw.
* Keyless bolting device means a door lock not in the doorknob that either locks:
1. With a bolt into a strike plate and is operable only by knob or lever from the door’s interior and not in any manner from the door’s exterior and that is commonly known as a keyless deadbolt;
2. By a drop bolt system operated by placing a central metal plate over a metal door jamb restraint that protrudes from the doorjamb and that is affixed to the doorjamb frame by means of three case-hardened screws at least three inches in length; or
3. By a metal bar or metal tube placed across the entire interior side of the door and secured in place at each end of the bar or tube by heavy-duty metal screw hooks.
A keyless bolting device does NOT include a chain latch, flip latch, surface-mounted barrel bolt, surface-mounted slide bolt, mortise door bolt, surface-mounted swing bar door guard, spring-loaded night latch, foot bolt, or other lock or latch.

The information in this brochure is a summary of the subject and other pertinent matters. It should not be considered conclusive or a substitute for legal advice. Unique facts can render broad statements inapplicable. Anyone needing legal assistance should contact an attorney.

SMOKE DETECTORS

We all know we should have an active smoke detector. But did you know it is required in apartments? The Austin Tenants’ Council provides helpful information regarding smoke detectors.
All rental units including apartments, duplexes, condos, and single-family homes must have smoke detectors as required by the Texas Property Code §92.251 – §92.262, Subchapter F.
How Many Smoke Detectors Are Required?
At least one smoke detector must be installed outside of each bedroom. However, if bedrooms are off of the same corridor, the landlord may install instead at least one smoke detector in that corridor in the immediate vicinity of the bedrooms. If at least one bedroom is located on a level above the living and cooking area, the smoke detector for the bedrooms must be placed in the center of the ceiling directly above the top of the stairway. Efficiency apartments must have one smoke detector inside the unit.
How Can a Tenant Get a Smoke Detector?
The smoke detectors should be in place before the tenant moves in. If they are not, a landlord must install one when a tenant makes a request for the landlord to do so. A written lease can require that the request be in writing. Because verbal requests are difficult to document, it is usually best to make requests in writing whether or not the lease requires it.
The Landlord Must Inspect or Repair
The landlord is supposed to inspect and test any smoke detector when a tenant first moves in. After that, the landlord must inspect or test the smoke detector whenever the tenant requests it or gives notice of a problem. The lease may require that the request or notice be in writing, but as stated before, it is usually best to put all requests in writing.
There are also limitations on the obligation of a landlord to inspect or repair a smoke detector. If damage or malfunction to the smoke detector is caused by the tenant, friends, or guests, the landlord is not required to repair or replace the damaged smoke detector unless the tenant pays in advance for reasonable cost of repair or replacement.
What if the Landlord Refuses to Install One?
If the landlord does not install, inspect, or repair the required smoke detector within seven days of receiving a written request and notification that the tenant may exercise rights under the Smoke Detector Subchapter of the Texas Property Code, the tenant may exercise certain legal remedies.
What Are the Remedies for the Tenant?
If the landlord does not install, inspect, or repair within seven days of receiving the written request, a tenant can go to court and the court can order the landlord to install, inspect, or repair the requested smoke detector. The court can also order the landlord to pay the tenant any damages suffered as a result of the landlord’s violation, a civil penalty of one month’s rent, plus $100, and court costs and attorney’s fees;
AND/OR
A tenant can terminate the lease and move out.
Tenant Liabilities
A tenant can be held liable for resulting damages if the tenant removes a battery from a smoke detector without immediately replacing it with a working battery or knowingly disconnects or intentionally damages a smoke detector, causing it to malfunction. Additionally, a lease between the landlord and tenant may allow the landlord to seek a court order directing the tenant to comply with the notice and to pursue civil penalties of one month’s rent, plus $100, plus attorney’s fees and court costs. This lease clause must be in underlined or bold print, and the landlord must give the tenant a separate seven-day written notice to correct the situation before the landlord can go to court.
What Else Does the Law Say?

  1. The tenant must have the rent paid in full when requesting installation or inspection of a smoke detector to hold the landlord liable if the landlord does not act on the request.
  2. If either the tenant or the landlord files suit in court to harass the other party, they can be held liable for a civil penalty of one month’s rent plus $100, plus attorney’s fees and court costs.
  3. The tenant cannot waive (give up) the right to have a smoke detector, even in a written lease.
  4. The tenant is responsible for replacing batteries if the smoke detector was in good working order when the tenant took possession.
  5. If requested by a tenant as an accommodation for a person with a hearing-impairment or as required by law as a reasonable accommodation for a person with a hearing-impairment, a smoke detector must, in addition to complying with all other requirements, be capable of alerting a hearing-impaired person in the bedrooms it serves.

The information in this brochure is a summary of the subject and other pertinent matters. It should not be considered conclusive or a substitute for legal advice. Unique facts can render broad statements inapplicable. Anyone needing legal assistance should contact an attorney.

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