FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Despite the global pandemic, tenants can still face late fees for missing rent payments.

In fact, Texas state law stipulates no maximum limit on how much landlords can charge in late fees.

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Friday, May 1 is just around the corner, but many tenants are still behind on April’s rent.

So when it comes to late fees, how much is too much?

“Some people don’t even have the money for rent itself, much less the late fees,” said Sandy Rollins, the executive director of the Texas Tenants’ Union.

Under a new late fee law enacted last September, landlords can charge up to 10% of the monthly rent at properties with more than five units.

In properties with fewer than five units, such as single-family rental homes, that late fee can jump to 12% of the monthly rent.

“We were disappointed to see the legislature go with the 10 and 12%,” Rollins said.

Notice of the fee must be included in the renters’ lease.

The legislation states the tenant may request a written statement of whether he or she owes a late fee to the landlord, and if so, the amount.

Earlier this month, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins called for a $15 cap on late fees for rental properties in response to the coronavirus. 

But in general, discretion usually lies with the landlords.

In fact, operators can charge late fees beyond 10% or 12% of monthly rent.

To be considered “reasonable” under the law, the landlord must charge a late fee that is less than the damages he or she would face as a result of receiving late payment..

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But some landlords are leaning toward leniency.

“Certainly it’s our recommendation that owners be as flexible as possible,” said Ian Mattingly, the former vice president of the Texas Apartment Association. “Many of our larger members have the financial means to be able to waive those late fees entirely.”

Mattingly is also the president of LumaCorp, a property management company in Dallas.

The new law applies to leases signed on or after September 1, 2019.

If you were charged an excessive late fee, inform your landlord of the new state law in writing.

You can also click here to contact the Texas Tenants’ Union.

If a landlord violates the law, they can be charged three times what the renter paid in late fees, a $100 penalty, and the renters’ attorney fees.

But a landlord cannot be punished for charging the late fees. Only collecting the “excessive” late fee can result in a violation.

In response to questions about the new late fee law, the Texas Apartment Association released a guide on the matter.

Click here to read it.

As part of the order passed by Dallas City Council last week, renters must give tenants 21 days to respond to an eviction notice. After that, tenants have 60 days before they need to vacate the premises.

The order also states housing operators cannot charge late fees on unpaid balances during that 60-day period.

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