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7008 views   |   12   |   Last updated on Oct 27, 2023    Landlord/Tenant Law

Under Texas law, guests who refuse to leave may be considered tenants who must be formally evicted.

The library often gets questions about how to remove an unwanted guest from a home. The guest may be a friend, relative, or significant other living in the house after they were initially permitted to stay. Often there is no written agreement between the two parties. The relationship has soured, and the guest refuses to leave.

It’s best to try to reach an agreement with the guest without going to court. If this isn’t possible, you may need to evict the guest the same way a landlord would evict a tenant. It’s important to note that if you do not follow these procedures, the guest may be able to bring a lawsuit against you.

Why would the guest be a tenant? They didn’t sign a lease.

If you allowed a guest to stay in your home, your agreement may have established a landlord/tenant relationship.

Most people think of a lease as a written agreement signed by both parties, but this isn’t always the case. In Texas, a residential "lease" can be a spoken or written agreement. The definition of "lease" is in Section 92.001 of the Texas Property Code:

(3) "Lease" means any written or oral agreement between a landlord and tenant that establishes or modifies the terms, conditions, rules, or other provisions regarding the use and occupancy of a dwelling.

A lease agreement can be for any amount of time or no set time at all. Only leases of more than one year are required to be in writing according to Section 26.01 of the Texas Business & Commerce Code. If no time period is specified, the guest might be considered an "at-will tenant."

Isn’t the guest trespassing?

People in this situation sometimes ask the police to remove the unwanted guest for criminal trespassing.  However, authorities may be reluctant to remove a person who claims they live on the premises.

The officer may advise you to take the matter to court. Of course, you should always call 911 if you think you are in danger. 

Tenant protections 

A landlord cannot:

  • change the locks
  • throw the tenant’s possessions out
  • force a tenant to leave without formally evicting them

If the tenant successfully sues for unlawful lockout, the judge can issue a writ to let the tenant back in. Additionally, the judge may order the landlord to do the following:

  • pay a fine of one month's rent plus $1,000
  • compensate the tenant for any expenses the tenant incurred due to their inability to access the property. Expenses might include hotel bills, attorney’s fees, court costs, payment for damaged or stolen property, etc.

These laws are in Section 92.0081 of the Texas Property Code. They are intended to protect tenants from being thrown out on the street at the whim of a landlord. Proceeding without a formal eviction exposes the landlord to a potential lawsuit from the tenant.

In this case, the "guest" would be entitled to the same protections as a tenant.

Steps in the eviction process

If the person refuses to leave, they may need to be evicted using the same procedure a landlord would use to evict a tenant. Under Texas law, there are specific steps to take to get a tenant to move out.

Terminating the lease agreement begins with giving the tenant a written notice to vacate. The amount of time the tenant has before moving out will likely depend on the agreement between the tenant and landlord. An at-will tenant must be given at least 3 days’ notice to vacate, according to Texas Property Code Section 94.005(b).

If the tenant does not move out in the time specified in the notice to vacate, the next step is to file an eviction suit in justice court.

See the Eviction section of our Landlord/Tenant Law guide for information on steps and timeframes in the eviction process.

The law can be complex, so you may wish to talk to an attorney before taking any action. For more information on finding an attorney, please see the library's Legal Help page.

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