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Ely, Counselor at Law
Category: Real Estate Law
Satisfied Customers: 99417
Experience:  Qualified attorney in private practice including business, family, criminal, and real estate issues.
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I have rented a house in Texas for 3 years. We recently had

Customer Question

I have rented a house in Texas for 3 years. We recently had a fire in the house. The day of the fire the house was released to my boyfriend and the owner. Locks were changed and the land lord secured the house. 2 days later the house was broken into and someone started another fire. This was arson / burglary. The house was under investigation but again locks were changed and the owner would not release the house to my boyfriend or myself. I was told that I had to get any of my belongings out of the residence within the next 1 or 2 days so they could start construction. (I did not have a key) The following evening about 8pm the owner texted me and said the investigation was over and I could meet her the following day to move my stuff out of the house and pick up a key as I was permitted back in. We were supposed to meet after work the following day. That evening about 4:45pm she contacted me and said it was getting late and was raining so she would not meet me to get the key. I told her I already had planned on people coming to the house to start going through property and I would go where ever she wanted me to to get the key from her. "no response". I then let her know that I would be waiting at the property until 6:00pm so if she could respond I would appreciate it. She responded at 5:45pm that she would not go to the house and I could not get the key. I asked why and she has not responded. It has been almost 24 hours. Is this legal?
Submitted: 2 months ago.
Category: Real Estate Law
Expert:  Ely replied 2 months ago.

Hello and welcome to JustAnswer. Please note: This is general information for educational purposes only and is not legal advice. No specific course of action is proposed herein, and no attorney-client relationship or privilege is formed by speaking to an expert on this site. By continuing, you confirm that you understand and agree to these terms.

I am sorry to hear about this situation. Can you please clarify:

1) How badly was the property burned? Is it no longer possible to live in it?

2) Are you objecting to them ending the lease, or, not providing the key to get your items out of the property?

This is not an answer, but an information request. I need this information to answer your question. Please reply, so I can answer your question. Thank you in advance.

Customer: replied 2 months ago.
The property has to be completely remodeled. The garage was destroyed. The 2nd fire destroyed the master closet. The smoke damage basically destroyed the house. My furniture and kids clothing can be restored. We cannot live in it as is.The lease was month - to - month after the 1st year so I already know they will remodel and not rent to us because they can raise the rent. I would object to it considering that we have always been on time and have never had any issues with them since we moved in. The fire was not our fault in any way.I am objecting MAJORLY to the fact that they assumed we should just up and move all of our belongings in 2 days and when I told them that it was not possible they will not meet me to give me a key. I have paid rent through the end of the month. For all practical purposes I am homeless. That was my only residence. I cannot get another place until all my furniture and belongings are basically cleaned and restored. What are my obligations to them as well as their obligations to me? I read that if a landlord performs a lock out for any reason they have to be available to open the door 24 hours a day. She will not respond. What is right?
Customer: replied 2 months ago.
if they "secured" the house and someone broke in and stole my property and damaged more of the house are they liable.
Expert:  Ely replied 2 months ago.

Thank you.

What has happened is that the lease has ended due to the legal doctrine of impossibility. See HERE. This means that the parties can walk away, and this is what seems to be happening.

At this point, the landlord has to provide reasonable time and opportunity for you to get your items from the property. If they do not, you can threaten an action for interference with chattel which is a civil action when someone is denying you access to items that rightfully belong to you. Simply a threat like this - informally - may spur them to give you faster access.

They are not liable for third party actions however, if a third party broke into the property and took some items - before or after the fire, provided that the landlord did not simply leave the door wide open.

Please note: If I tell you simply what you wish to hear, this would be unfair to you. I need to be honest with you and sometimes this means providing information that is not optimal. Negative ratings are reserved for experts who are rude or for erroneous information. Please rate me on the quality of my information; do not punish me for my honesty.

I hope this helps and clarifies. Please use the SEND or REPLY button to keep chatting, or please RATE when finished. You may always ask follow ups at no charge after rating. Kindly rate my answer as one of TOP THREE FACES/STARS and then SUBMIT, as this is how experts get credit for our time. Rating my answer the bottom two faces/stars (or failing to submit the rating) does not give me credit and reflects poorly on me, even if my answer is correct. I work very hard to formulate an informative and honest answer for you; please reciprocate my good faith with a positive rating.

Customer: replied 2 months ago.
what is reasonable time? If the lease is terminated do they owe me for the days of rent I already paid?
Expert:  Ely replied 2 months ago.

This falls back on common law doctrine. Nothing in Texas statutory law states what is to happen per se if there is a fire. But according too common law doctrine:

1) The landlord should pay back the money prepaid on a lease that was voided by impossibility. If not, then they can be liable for money had and received. See HERE.

2) Reasonable time is 1-3 days. Anything over that, the landlord is wasting time, arguably. It is on a case by case basis.

Gentle Reminder: Please, use REPLY or SEND button to keep chatting, or RATE POSITIVELY and SUBMIT your rating when we are finished. You may always ask follow ups at no charge after rating.

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