Updated: Aug 9, 2020
Evictions in Texas are governed by unique laws and procedures that allow an expedited process for determining who has a superior right to possession of a property. While many lawsuits end up going to trial a year or more after they are filed, trials in eviction cases are set just 10-21 days after the date of filing. To compensate for the quick process, very specific requirements must be strictly followed. In most cases, a landlord or other property owner must start by properly serving a tenant or other occupant with a formal "notice to vacate." The law is very specific as to what must and can't be on the notice to vacate, and particularly as to how the notice to vacate must be delivered. In some cases, a separate "notice to cure" is required before a notice to vacate can be served. After the notice to vacate is served, a landlord must wait a certain number of days - typically 3, but this varies. The landlord must then complete an eviction petition and file it with the local Justice of the Peace (JP) court. There are very specific requirements as to what exactly must be included in this petition. A constable or deputy constable must then serve the occupants with the petition and citations directing them to appear at trial.
Not all eviction cases involve a tenant renting an apartment or house not paying rent. Sometimes they involve arguments over who is supposed to make repairs, personal disputes between tenants or between a tenant and a neighbor or the landlord, foreclosures, squatters, alleged adverse possession, executory contracts for deed (more commonly known as "rent-to-own" contracts), breakups of live-in relationships, family members overstaying their welcome, and other situations. These cases are often more complex than standard evictions brought for non-payment or alleged non-payment. At trial, the landlord or property owner must prove: 1) ownership or some other right of possession of the property; 2) that the occupant breached his or her lease or for some other reason does not have the right to occupy the property; 3) that proper notice to vacate was provided and the occupant failed to vacate in the time specified; and 4) if required, that proper notice to cure was provided and the occupant failed to cure in the time specified. If the tenant or occupant does not file a written answer or appear for trial, a proper military status affidavit must be on file for the owner to secure a judgment. If a judgment is entered awarding possession of the property to the landlord or property owner, the tenant will then have 5 days, or longer, if the 5th day falls on a weekend, holiday, or day the court closes before 5 PM, to move out or appeal. If they fail to move out or appeal, the landlord will have to go back to the Justice of the Peace to secure a writ of possession, an order directing law enforcement to remove the occupants and their belongings from the premises. Both sides have the right to appeal an unfavorable judgment. If either party appeals, the case will be transferred to a county court at law (or a constitutional county court in smaller counties) for a trial de novo - a completely new trial where the case must be presented all over again! Unlike in JP court, in this court, the Texas Rules of Evidence apply, as do significantly more complex rules of procedure. The process at this level also typically takes much more time; trials are often scheduled one to two months after an appeal is filed. Sometimes, but not all the time, a tenant is required to pay rent to the court while the appeal is pending. If the tenant fails to do so, sometimes, but not all the time, a landlord can actually obtain a writ of possession while the appeal itself goes on.
As you can see, the Texas eviction process isn't always simple. Depending on a number of circumstances and variables, it can actually be quite complicated.