One of the best investments someone can make is real estate, more specifically in rental properties. As an investment vehicle, rental properties allow individuals to generate cash flow while at the same time increase their equity in an asset that should appreciate over time. However, if landlords learned anything in 2020 it is that nothing is guaranteed.
Once COVID-19 came rushing onto the global stage in March of 2020 most owners would start to feel the changes that were occurring in the rental market. Once the Travis County and CDC eviction moratoriums were announced landlords essentially lost the right to remove a non-paying tenant from their home with no end in sight. These moratoriums have extended since then all the way into 2021 and are set, at this time, to expire on January 31, 2021. With the changing of administrations in the White House, the new administration has released the details of their stimulus proposal, which includes direct payments to owners for rents. While this is a step in the right direction the proposal also includes an extension of the federal eviction moratorium until September 2021.
Regardless of any proposals, it’s best to prepare in the event evictions come back online soon. Stone Oak regularly partners with Texas Tenant Evictions, which is a third-party eviction service here in Austin that we outsource non-clients who contact us about an eviction. With the influx of calls they’ve received over the course of 2020 with no recourse for owners it’s not far out there to say that once the Justice of the Peace courts open back up they will be busy. Failure to act in a timely manner on any eviction you need to process could result in a long waiting period before you ever get in front of the judge. Keep in mind that the eviction moratorium specifies that evictions are allowed, just not ones that pertain to non-payment of rent due to COVID complications.
To prepare, here is a short summary of how to get your eviction started in both Travis County and Williamson county. (Williamson County provides the same tools as below for its property owners. You can mirror the Travis County process for Williamson County using the appropriate Wilco JP court site.)
How to Evict a Tenant in Travis County
Before getting started evicting your tenant in Travis County, you’ll need to know which precinct your property is located in. Travis County is broken up into 5 precincts. To find out which precinct your property is in you can use the JP court precinct search feature provided on the county’s website.
Once you know which justice court precinct would hear your eviction case you’ll want to visit the precinct's site and review their information posted about evictions. One thing to keep in mind before ever getting started with the courts is that proper notice must have been provided to the tenant before an eviction can be filed. Typically, this will require a 3-day Notice to Vacate, but your eviction petition could require a longer notice. It’s best to check with our friends at Texas Tenant Evictions or your preferred real estate attorney to make sure you’re providing the right amount of time as required by the Texas property code.
Once you’ve served your eviction notice and the time frame provided has expired you will want to visit the appropriate JP court site on the county’s website. From there you should find a link on the left side of the page accompanied by text that reads ‘Guide & File’ or ‘Step by Step Civil Filing’. From there you will be redirected to eFile Texas’ website where you can file your petition for eviction online for your specific JP court.
The cost for filing a petition for eviction in Travis County is $101.00.
As you move through the eFile process, you’ll be required to upload any and all required documents. Such as the lease between you and the tenant, a ledger of payments owed, any communications between you and the tenant regarding the case, the paperwork that must be submitted alongside the petition for the county. You must always include a military affidavit with your filing to ensure that any tenant involved in the eviction is not active military.
If you’ve submitted everything required successfully, the court will need to pay the filing fee and the court will send you a filing confirmation. You’ll want to make sure that you provided good contact information when filing as the court will typically contact you via the email provided with further information about your court date, etc.
Once the JP court provides you with a date and time for your hearing you’ll want to be there on that date to fight your case to the judge. If all boxes were checked and no corners were cut to get the eviction process started faster you should be in the clear and receive a judgment for possession of your property as well as back-due rents if you chose to pursue this as well.
What does an eviction judgment do for you though?
A lot of property owners and individuals think the process is finished there and the eviction is done. Realistically, all you have is a piece of paper from the courts saying you won. Now, some tenants will take this as a sign and remove themselves from the property in which case the issue would be over and you’d have your property back. But…
What if the tenant doesn’t remove themselves from your rental property after the judge sided with you in the eviction hearing?
This is where your precinct’s Constables office comes into play alongside a process called a writ of possession. This is the process of filing your judgment from the eviction hearing with the Constable’s office.
The cost to file a Writ of Possession in Travis County is $160.00.
Once you’ve filed the Writ of Possession with the appropriate constable (It’ll be the same precinct as your JP court) you’ll hear from the Constable in a few days to set up a time and date to show up at the property and physically remove the tenant and any items in the home.
Time is of the essence during this process as the constable will allocate you only a couple of hours of time that he is on-site to monitor the removal of items from the home. You’ll need to prepare for the writ of possession beforehand. You’ll definitely need a locksmith and moving crew that show up with you the morning of. The locksmith will work to change the locks ensuring you possess the keys that open the doors to the home. The moving crew will be required to remove all possessions from the home, as required by the constable. Every single item that belongs to the tenant(s) who was evicted needs to be removed from the property to satisfy the deputy on site. This to avoid tenants coming back and stating that their property was stolen and locked away from them.
A tip for owners who are facing a writ of possession process - don’t skimp on the moving crew. You never really know what you are walking into when doing a writ of possession and if you don’t have enough manpower to remove the contents of the home in a timely manner the constable will begin to charge you an hourly rate for being on-site. Having a crew on site to handle the full removal of items in as little time as possible is ideal.
The contents of the home must sit outside on the curb of the property for at least 24 hours before you, the owner, can schedule a junk removal service to come to haul the items from the property.
At this point you’ve received a judgment, have gone through the writ of possession, the locks have been changed and the tenant and their personal belongings have been removed from the property. Congratulations, you now have possession of your rental property again! While it’s easy to sum the process up in a few hundred words, we expect this process to be extremely bogged down once the courts are back in a place where they are processing all evictions so please adjust time expectations accordingly - this entire eviction moratorium situation is unprecedented.
Depending on your circumstances and the circumstances of the tenant in your rental property, 2020 may very well have been a rough year for you as a rental homeowner. Having received calls from dozens if not hundreds of self-managing owners who have tenants who are taking advantage of COVID eviction moratoriums we can only hope that these landlords are able to find relief soon. Having an experienced Austin property manager on your side can make all the difference.
>>>> Learn more about Stone Oak’s property management services for Travis and Williamson County rental homes.
This blog is an informational article and does not constitute as legal advice. Please consult an attorney if you need clarification on any of the legal processes described above.