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COVID-19 Eviction Answer

Eviction & Other Landlord Issues

How to answer an eviction suit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Overview

Guide Overview

Warning: The information and forms in this guide are not a substitute for the advice and help of a lawyer.

This guide helps you Answer an Eviction suit during the COVID-19 emergency. It includes an Answer form and tips on what COVID-related defenses to eviction may apply to you. 

Common questions about Eviction & Other Landlord Issues

Some cities and counties have halted evictions due to COVID-19. Different rules apply to different areas. See a list of local eviction protections on our main COVID-19 Eviction page.

Some local governments also have special notice requirements.

You need to file with the Justice Court that issued the Eviction Citation. This should be in the same precinct as the property. If you have appealed your case to County Court and have not already filed an Answer, you would file with the County Court.

You may be able to file online at efiletexas.gov. If you have trouble filing online, you may be able to file in person with the court clerk. If you can't file online and the court clerk's office is closed, contact the court clerk to find out how to file.

The Eviction Citation should say when your Answer is due. Eviction cases move fast. Your hearing could take place as soon as 10 days after your landlord files a Petition for Eviction. At the latest, your hearing must be within 21 days of the Petition.

In Texas eviction cases, no. If you fail to file an Answer, you should still go to the hearing. However, there are good reasons to file an Answer:

  • It lets you tell the judge in writing why you should not be evicted.
  • It requires the judge to look at the evidence before making a decision.
  • If you want to appeal the decision to County Court, you have to submit an Answer if you have not already done so.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act is a federal law passed to help people and businesses during COVID-19. Most of these protections have ended, However, a landlord must still give you 30 days' notice before filing an eviction if the CARES Act covers your home. Also, Texas required all landlords who filed for eviction prior to September 30, 2020, to swear whether the CARES Act applies to the an eviction case and whether they gave the tenant the required 30-day notice.

See this article from Texas RioGrande Legal Aid for more information about the CARES Act, including a list of programs that trigger tenant protections.

A general denial tells the court that you disagree with what the other side says in their filings. By saying you disagree with what the other side says, you help make sure that the court requires the other side to prove their case. Most Answer forms on TexasLawHelp contain a general denial.

Instructions & Forms

Warning: The information and forms in this guide are not a substitute for the advice and help of a lawyer.

Checklist Steps

Select the Eviction Answer Form below these instructions. The form is a fillable PDF.

Or you can use Lone Star Legal Aid Eviction Answer Guided Interview (also below). It will ask you questions and fill out the form for you. If you choose this option, follow the directions that come with Lone Star Legal Aid's form. 
 

Fill out the Cause No., Plaintiff, Defendant, Precinct No., and County blanks at the top exactly as they appear in the citation you received.

  • If this this case is in Justice Court, check the box by “Justice Court” and enter the precinct number. Also enter the Place number, if applicable. Most urban Justice Courts have Place numbers. You can find this information at the top of the citation.
  • If this case is in County Court on appeal, check the appropriate box and enter the court number. You can find this number at the top of the citation. Some places, like Harris County, might call the appeal court “Civil Court at Law.”

Check the applicable boxes, if any.

Pending Rental Assistance Application: 

Check this box if you know that the landlord has applied for assistance to cover rent they say you owe. This includes when the landlord joins your application, starts their own application, or sends any information to any rent assistance program to apply for or receive payment. 

Note that you can apply for help with rent through local programs such as those found herehere, and here

  • Check the box by “the rental assistance application has been approved” if applicable.

Interest in Rental Assistance – Check this box if you and the landlord are both interested in getting rent assistance funds. If your landlord is willing, this will let you abate and seal your case. See the TexasLawHelp article on Tenant Protections under the 44th Emergency Order.  

Plaintiff has received rental assistance funds: Check this box if rent assistance paid for at least one period of rent that the landlord is accusing you of not paying in this eviction suit. 

For example, if you used rent assistance to pay last month’s rent, but the petition says that you should be evicted for owing last month’s rent, then check this box.

CARES Act: After July 25, landlords of covered properties must give a 30-Day Notice to vacate before filing for eviction.

Check this box if you live on a covered property and any of the following apply:

  • The landlord did not give you a 30-Day Notice to Vacate, or
  • The landlord gave you a 30-Day Notice to Vacate but filed for eviction before the 30 days ended.

Covered Properties: Go to the National Low Income Housing Coalition for a list of properties that fall under Section 4024 the CARES Act. There is also a map from BASTA, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, and Texas Housers hereNote that the list and map are not complete. If you check the list and the map and are still unsure whether you live on a covered property, see How to Find Out if the CARES Act Applies to Your Home

Federal Mortgage in Forbearance: Check this box if:

1) you live on a property with five or more units; and

2) your landlord is in forbearance on a mortgage from the Fair Housing Administration or the Fair Housing Finance Agency (including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac)

You can go to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website to find this information. Any owners in this type of forbearance cannot evict tenants for nonpayment.

If this defense applies, also check the box next to the entity that holds your landlord’s mortgage.

Local Halt on Evictions: 

Austin and Travis County have halted many evictions through December 31, 2021. A landlord cannot issue a Notice to Vacate in Austin or Travis County unless:

  • The tenant has a monthly rent of over $2,475 or 
  • The landlord has applied for and exhausted all rent assistance options.

    Check this box if your rent is under $2,475 and if you believe that your landlord has not applied for all available rent assistance. 

Also, Austin and Travis County landlords cannot issue a Notice to Vacate unless you are behind on rent. The number of months you must be behind on rent depends on when the Notice to Vacate is issued. 

Check this box if:

  • You got a Notice to Vacate dated in November when you were not more than one month behind on rent, or
  • You got a Notice to Vacate dated in September or October when you were not more than three months behind on rent. 
     

Texas Notice to Vacate: Check this box if you did not get a Notice to Vacate. Texas law requires all landlords to give tenants a Notice to Vacate at least three days before filing for eviction unless the lease states a shorter time period.

You can also check this box if the time between when you received a Notice to Vacate and the date on your citation is 1) less than the time period stated in your lease, or 2) less than three days if the lease does not state a time period.

Note: This Notice to Vacate is separate from the CARES Act Notice above and the Notice of Possible Eviction below.


Notice of Possible Eviction: Some local governments, including Dallas, temporarily require landlords to give you an extra written notice and a chance to pay missed rent before giving you a Notice to Vacate for unpaid rent. (The Notice to Vacate is what they are supposed to give you right before they file for eviction.) Be aware of your local rules before checking this box. You can find these rules on your city or county website, or they may be listed on Special Tenant Rights to Notice on TexasLawHelp. If possible, enter the name of the city or county that made the rule.

You may list any further defenses or information that you think the court should know about. If there is not enough room, you can attach the information to the Answer form.

Check this box if you want a jury to decide your case instead of a judge. Be aware that there is a fee for this.

Check this box if you agree to get case information through email.

If your explanations do not fit in the form, feel free to add an attachment. You can also attach other evidence, such as a copy of the lease, evidence that the CARES Act applies, etc. List the title of each attachment.

Example: “CDC Declaration”

Sign and fill out your contact information.

Give a copy of the Answer to the Plaintiff or the Plaintiff’s attorney, if they have one. You can give them a copy by hand, mail, or fax. If you and the Plaintiff Agree, you can email them a copy.

Enter the date on which you sent a copy of the Answer to the Plaintiff. Check the method you used.

Sign the Certificate of Service.

File the completed Answer with the Justice Court. You can do this in person or you may be able to file online though efiletexas.gov.

If you are appealing your case after losing in Justice Court, file the Answer with the County Court that is hearing your appeal. If you have already filed an Answer in Justice Court, you do not have to file another one for your appeal.

Go to the court hearing. If you absolutely cannot show up to the hearing, file a Motion for Continuance to ask for another date. You must have a very good reason to move the court date. The court does not have to give you a new court date just because you ask. Note that conflict with your work schedule is not usually an acceptable reason.

Forms Required

Warning: The information and forms in this guide are not a substitute for the advice and help of a lawyer.

This list tells you what steps to take to see if the CARES Act requires your landlord to give you an extra 30-day Notice to Vacate. The CARES Act may also protect you from late fees incurred prior to July 25, 2020.

Checklist Steps

The CARES Act only protects people who are late on rent. If you are being evicted or fined for reasons other than late rent, the CARES Act does not apply.

Your Notice to Vacate or the Petition for Eviction should list the reason for eviction. 

The CARES Act only applies to properties where the landlord participates in certain federal programs. There are a number of tools you can use to look this up. However, please be aware that not all covered properties are included in the results. If the property is listed, then the CARES Act probably applies. However, the CARES Act may still apply even if the property is not listed. This is especially true for smaller buildings or single-family homes, which are less likely to show up in the tool.

To look up your property: 

Below is a list of federal programs that trigger CARES Act tenant protections.

It may or may not be obvious if your property participates in a program. If you are a Section 8 tenant, for example, you know that your property participates in a Section 8 program. But other programs are more obscure or hard for a tenant to determine.

Programs that trigger CARES Act tenant protections are:

  • Public housing 
  • Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program 
  • Section 8 project-based housing 
  • Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program
  • Section 202 housing for the elderly 
  • Section 811 housing for people with disabilities 
  • Section 236 multifamily rental housing 
  • Section 221(d)(3) Below Market Interest Rate (BMIR) housing 
  • HOME 
  • Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) 
  • McKinney-Vento Act homelessness programs 
  • Section 515 Rural Rental Housing 
  • Sections 514 and 516 Farm Labor Housing
  • Section 533 Housing Preservation Grants 
  • Section 538 multifamily rental housing
  • USDA Rural Housing Choice Voucher program
  • The CARES Act also protects tenants if Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac have a financial interest in the property.

If the first three steps did not help you find out if the CARES Act applies, you can try to get the information through discovery. Discovery is where the other side has to give you information as part of a court case. 

To get the information through discovery, the tenant may ask the court to require the landlord to answer questions by following these four steps:

1. Write a list of questions, called “interrogatories,” that ask the landlord for the following information:

  • Is the property backed by a federal mortgage loan or a federal multifamily mortgage loan?
  • What is the name of the mortgage lender and loan servicer for the property, if any?
  • Does the property participate in any of the following federal housing programs?
    • Public housing 
    • Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program 
    • Section 8 project-based housing 
    • Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program
    • Section 202 housing for the elderly 
    • Section 811 housing for people with disabilities 
    • Section 236 multifamily rental housing 
    • Section 221(d)(3) Below Market Interest Rate (BMIR) housing 
    • HOME 
    • Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) 
    • McKinney-Vento Act homelessness programs 
    • Section 515 Rural Rental Housing 
    • Sections 514 and 516 Farm Labor Housing
    • Section 533 Housing Preservation Grants 
    • Section 538 multifamily rental housing
    • USDA Rural Housing Choice Voucher program.

2. File a Motion for Expedited Discovery that asks the justice court to make the landlord answer your interrogatories under oath. Attach the list of interrogatories to the motion when filing. Note: TexasLawHelp does not currently have Motion for Expedited Discovery forms. We will post forms when or if they become available.

 3. After filing the Motion for Expedited Discovery, serve the landlord a copy of the motion and the proposed interrogatories. One can serve by mail, fax, hand delivery, or email if the landlord has consented to email service.

4. If the court grants the Motion for Expedited Discovery, serve the interrogatories on the landlord by mail, fax, hand delivery, or email if the landlord has consented to email service.

The court will use the landlord’s answers to these interrogatory questions to decide whether the CARES Act applies.

The CARES Act may provide some indirect protection as well. For eviction cases filed prior to April 1, 2021, Texas requires landlords to swear that the CARES Act does not apply to the property. This sworn statement should appear in the Petition for Eviction (also called a Complaint for Eviction). 

If the Petition for Eviction does not say that the CARES Act does not apply to the property, you should include this information in your Answer and tell the judge during your hearing. 

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