House Bill 2035 Would Keep Texas Cities From Regulating Evictions | Dallas Observer

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House Bill 2035 Would Keep Texas Cities From Regulating Evictions

Since last month, Dallas County landlords have filed more than 7,300 evictions, according to the nonprofit Child Poverty Action Lab.
Since last month, Dallas County landlords have filed more than 7,300 evictions, according to the nonprofit Child Poverty Action Lab. Jacob Vaughn
Last week, Texas Rep. Shelby Slawson, a Republican from Stephenville, filed a bill that aims to prevent cities from regulating evictions.

Her House Bill 2035 would keep cities from taking measures to prohibit, restrict or delay the delivery of a notice to vacate and the filing of a suit to recover possession of a property. The bill also says cities can’t take any measure that “otherwise relates to an eviction suit.”

The bill would take effect immediately if passed by a two-thirds vote in both the Texas House and Senate. If the bill passes without these two-thirds majorities, it will take effect on Sept. 1. Slawson said she filed the bill to keep the state’s eviction laws consistent.

“Allowing cities to interfere in this process will result in a confusing patchwork of legal inconsistencies,” she said in an emailed statement. “During the height of the pandemic, several cities passed ordinances delaying the eviction process anywhere from 21-90 days despite an Attorney General’s opinion that cities do not have the power to impede the eviction process under their emergency powers.

“Now, some cities have made versions of their temporary ordinances permanent, while San Marcos continues to require 90 days notice.”

Attorney General Ken Paxton sent a letter to Sen. Brandon Creighton, a Conroe Republican, in 2020 in response to a question he asked about local governments’ authority to pass eviction ordinances. In the letter, Paxton said local governments didn’t have the authority to pass eviction ordinances and that doing so amounted to changing state law. However, that letter from Paxton was non-binding legal guidance to Creighton, according to The Texas Tribune.

Throughout the pandemic, Dallas had a temporary eviction ordinance on the books that gave tenants extra time to settle late rent if they could prove COVID-19 caused them to get behind. If tenants proved they were financially affected by the pandemic within 21 days of their initial eviction notice, they could get a full two months to avoid eviction. The extra time would provide opportunities to pay what they owe.

In recent months, the city made some changes to that ordinance. Under these changes, Dallas tenants have 10 days to respond to their landlord’s initial notice of eviction with evidence that they’ve applied for rental assistance. If they do this, they can get a full two months from the initial notice of eviction to pay the rent money owed.

These ordinances were always meant to be temporary, but a permanent one has been in the works in Dallas since last year. Throughout this month, the city will host several events to gather comments from residents about the permanent eviction ordinance. All that time could go to waste if Slawson’s bill is passed.

Local eviction attorney Mark Melton saw all of this coming. Melton and his wife, Lauren Melton, started Dallas Eviction Advocacy Center to help tenants in the city avoid eviction. Even as he negotiated with Texas apartment associations to establish local eviction ordinances, he suspected they were going behind his back to undo all of that work with a piece of legislation like HB 2035.

“They’ve put this bill out there that restricts big cities from doing things that are absolutely necessary to help our citizenry just to survive.” – Mark Melton, Dallas Eviction Advocacy Center

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“We’ve been sitting here for the last almost year trying to negotiate these ordinances with apartment associations that are engaged and done all these things,” Melton said. “Now, we’ve also heard rumors for six or eight moths that they’re sitting at the table negotiating with us knowing full well that they’re going to try to come back to the Legislature and just try to destroy anything that they pretended to negotiate in good faith.”

A similar bill was filed during the last legislative session but it didn’t pass. “It’s hard to say whether that’s because we were in the middle of a pandemic and people just weren’t willing to do anything, or if that will change now,” Melton said. He isn't sure what to expect this time around.

The associations, Melton said, don’t want any restrictions on their’ ability to evict. “Their argument that they like to make is ‘Well, you know, eviction is the last resort. Nobody wants to evict so it’s only something that we do in extreme circumstances,’” Melton explained. But that’s not true at all, he said. “They say, ‘Just trust us. We’ll only evict when it’s necessary. We don’t need these rules to restrict us in our ability and we don’t want them,’” Melton said.

David Mintz, vice president of government affairs for the Texas Apartment Association, said just about all of those things. But, he also said the ordinances were becoming too costly and burdensome for landlords. “Some of these ordinances, unfortunately, have had delays associated with them that cause very severe problems,” Mintz said.

“What’s happening is you are having even longer periods of time where someone is living at the property, not paying the rent,” Mintz said. “That can be incredibly difficult in a situation where you’re trying to take care of the property or meet your obligations.”

On its Twitter page, the state association wrote, “Thanks Shelby Slawson for filing HB 2035 to ensure Texas property law is fair and consistent.” The group also thanked the bill’s co-authors Rep. Dustin Burrows, Republican from Lubbock; Rep. Reggie Smith, Republican from Sherman; Rep. Will Metcalf, Republican from Conroe; and Rep. Justin Holland, Republican from Rockwall. Holland represents a portion of Collin County. The Apartment Association of Greater Dallas did not respond to requests for comment.

Given that Slawson represents a rural part of Texas, Melton said there’s no way she can understand the effects her bill would have on cities like Dallas.

“I think the point is you have a state representative in a rural area that doesn’t have any of the issues we have in Dallas with poverty or affordable housing,” Melton said. “They’ve put this bill out there that restricts big cities from doing things that are absolutely necessary to help our citizenry just to survive.”

As evictions return to pre-pandemic levels, tenant protections are needed more than ever, Melton said.

“We’ve already seen a huge jump in evictions. That’s already happening,” Melton said. “We’re pretty much back to pre-pandemic levels. … At this point, we’ve got all kinds of problems compounding on each other: regular price inflation, rent inflation, wages are not keeping up with that inflation. The problems are getting worse.”
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn

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