Legal help on how to fight illegal evictions

Not only are many renters who can't pay the rent facing eviction, but some also say they are being illegally forced out of their homes without their day in court.

We've been hearing harrowing stories from people being locked out of their homes, or their power turned off, after losing their jobs during the shutdown. But that's not legal and state law says may let you collect money in damages from your landlord.

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Viewers have sent us photos, saying their personal items were removed from their apartments when they couldn't pay the rent.  Some say the lights or water were turned off.

One woman, who wants to stay anonymous, says her landlord wouldn't accept her rent because they wanted her out.

"They put a notice to vacate and I was like why am I leaving? I didn't do anything," the woman told us.
Attorney Reggie Fox with Lone Star Legal Aid says their office is seeing illegal eviction cases.

"Unfortunately, what some people do is what's called 'Self Help Evictions.'  They would turn off the power, the lights, the water, sometimes they would also lock people out," he tells us.

By Texas law, eviction is not legal until a judge orders it.

Fox says if a landlord locks you out, you should ask for the new key.

"You are required to get a key once you ask for it within two hours.  They have two hours to give you a key," he explains.

If you don't receive a key, you can ask a judge for a writ of re-entry.  And if your power or water is turned off, a judge can order it back on.

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Texas Property Code says a landlord who does these things may end up owing you one month's rent plus $1000 in damages and attorney's fees.

Fox also points out tenants don't have to move out when you receive a Notice to Vacate.

"Then they have to go to court and you don't have move until the judge says you have to move.  Even then, you don' thave to move becasue you have the right to file an appeal," said Fox.

Fox told his client to record herself on her phone paying her rent.  She did. Now a judge is letting her stay for a few months. But she says the experience has been very stressful.

"Not knowing when I'm going to go and stuff and uproot me and my child's life and try to find somewhere else to stay instead of where I was at," she tells us.

If you've been illegally evicted and can't afford an attorney, you can call Lone Star Legal Aid, Houston Volunteer Lawyers, or find self-help resources at