A lawyer is always recommended, especially in county court, but starting 9/1/2017, not mandatory in an eviction appeal — if you are running a multi-family.  Our esteemed legislature left out the single family homeowner.

Thanks to the Texas Legislature

hb 3879 Sec. 24.011. NONLAWYER REPRESENTATION;

(a) In eviction suits in justice court for nonpayment of rent or holding over beyond a rental term, the parties may represent themselves or be represented by their authorized agents, who need not be attorneys. In any eviction suit in justice court, an authorized agent requesting or obtaining a default judgment need not be an attorney.

(b) In an appeal of an eviction suit for nonpayment of rent in a county or district court, an owner of a multifamily residential property may be represented by the owner’s authorized agent, who need not be an attorney, or, if the owner is a corporation or other entity, by an employee, owner, officer, or partner of the entity, who need not be an attorney.

SECTION 2. The change in law made by this Act applies only to an appeal taken on or after the effective date of this Act. SECTION 3. This Act takes effect September 1, 2017.

Why leave out single family homeowner/landlords?
The bill comes from Craig Goldman, owner of the Arlington Village Apartments, a slum apartment community in Arlington, TX. The bill was endorsed by Sen. Kelly Hancock. See http://www.texasmonthly.com/list/the-best-and-worst-legislators-2013/the-worst-senator-kelly-hancock/

Can a single family homeowner represent themselves in county court? (act as their own lawyer)
If the property is owned by an individual, YES!, otherwise, NO!
By long-established law, an LLC, trust, or other such business entity CANNOT represent themselves in court. However, an individual CAN represent themselves “pro se” — without a lawyer.
But with this new legislation in Texas, if it’s a multifamily property, then no lawyer needed, period.  Perhaps we can all agree that it won’t take much to expand it to include single family homes — just delete the words “multi-family” in section B and we are done. Call your legislator if you really want this!  But do you?

Is county court any different than JP? What’s the diff?
JP court is like watching Judge Judy — the judge gets to do whatever they want to seek justice.  Ask questions of anyone. No rules. Yeehaw!   Good times!
A case in county court is like watching Perry Mason, you have to follow the rules. Evidence rules are the worst. You have to say things like “your honor, I am admitting this lease into evidence.”  Then trying to understand why the judge said no to lack of foundation or some other crap.  Basically, if the tenant shows up with a lawyer, and you are not a lawyer, well, you are screwed.  For example, ever fought for a supersedeas bond before? They are your best friend as a landlord. Just Sayin’

The Good

  • Lower legal costs to owners of multi-family properties, maybe.
  • Faster evictions, maybe, maybe not.

The Not So Good

  • Lower legal costs to owners of multi-family properties, maybe, maybe not
  • Self-representation faces a higher risk of loss of the eviction if either the employee who shows up doesn’t know how to present a case under the law or the tenant shows up with a lawyer
  • If a lawyer was hired, he/she might have been able to get the case kicked out before even making it to the courtroom.  Motion for Default Judgment, several Motions for Writ may be possible for appeal bond problems, non-payment of rent into the registry, Writs available after a judgment loss (really), and so on.
  • If the eviction is kicked out at County Court, you get to start over at JP court, then losing months just to get back to County Court.

Huh? Advice?

  • Going to County? Get a lawyer.  Don’t suggest to an individual homeowner to self-represent, the suggestion may blow back on you as the property manager. Properties owned by LLCs, trusts, etc. have to lawyer up anyway.
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