Landlords: Resist the Urge to Fight Tenant’s Claimed “Pauper” Status
The natural tendency of Landlords is to fight the perceived injustice of the tenant’s claim. Especially when they know that the tenant is not a pauper.
Despite this urge, the prudent Landlord resists the desire to challenge the Tenant’s claim to pauper status.
WHY TENANTS CLAIM “PAUPER” STATUS
In the eviction context, a “Pauper” is an appellant who cannot furnish a bond or pay a cash deposit in the amount required by the justice court as a condition of appeal. “Paupers” may, instead, file with the Court a sworn Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs (also known as a “Pauper’s Affidavit”). The contents of the Pauper’s Affidavit is established by Section 24.0052 of the Texas Property Code.
PROCEDURE FOR CHALLENGING THE TENANT’s CLAIMED PAUPER STATUS
Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 510.9(c)(2) authorizes a Landlord to contest the tenant’s “Statement” within 5 days after receiving notice that it was filed. Contests are governed by Rule 502.3(d). If contested by the Landlord, the judge must hold a hearing to determine the tenant’s ability to afford the fees. In addition, the court may conduct a hearing on its own accord, after examining the tenant’s statement, but this rarely occurs.
At the hearing on the contest, the burden is on the appealing tenant to prove the inability to afford fees. If the judge determines that the tenant is able to afford the fees, the judge must enter a written order listing the reasons for the determination, and the tenant must pay the fees in the time specified in the order or the appeal will be dismissed.
TENANT MAY APPEAL THE COURT’S DECISION THAT THEY ARE NOT A PAUPER
If the Landlord’s contest is sustained, the appealing tenant may appeal that decision by filing notice with the justice court within 5 days of that court’s written order. The justice court must then forward all related documents to the county court, which must set the matter for hearing within 5 days and hear the contest de novo, as if there had been no previous hearing.
If the appealing tenant does not appeal the ruling sustaining the contest, or if the county court denies the appeal, the tenant may, within one business day, post an appeal bond or make a cash deposit. If he does, the appeal of the underlying eviction judgment will proceed.
RESOLVING THE TENANT’S “PAUPER” STATUS IS A LENGTHY PROCESS THAT DELAYS DETERMINATION OF THE MERITS OF THE EVICTION
In my experience, challenging the tenant’s pauper status is a counterproductive waste of time, energy and resources. Even when the Landlord’s contest is sustained, the tenant has still benefitted from extended occupancy of the property without paying rent.
Most importantly, squabbling over the tenant’s ability to pay court costs delays determination of the merits of the underlying eviction case by at least two weeks (and often longer).
A prudent Landlord should avoid the urge to challenge the tenant’s pauper status. Instead, resources are better spent on pursuing prompt trial on the merits on the tenant’s de novo appeal of the eviction case.