Know Your Rights: Texas allows recording with consent of only one party

Richard Alderman

Q. I am in a dispute with my landlord. Is it legal to record my phone calls with him? Do I have to tell him I am recording it or have a beeping sound?

A. Different states have different rules regarding the recording of conversations, but Texas is what is called a “one-party consent” state. This means that you can record a conversation if one party to the conversation consents. Therefore, you may record your conversation with the landlord, but could not record his conversations with another person. If you illegally recorded a conversation, you could be subject to criminal and civil penalties.

Q. I stopped paying a credit card bill in 2009. I have not paid a penny since then, and for a few years heard from several debt collectors. About three years ago, all contact stopped. I am now being threatened with a lawsuit. You recently wrote that generally you couldn’t be successfully sued for a credit card debt four years after you stop paying. Why did you say generally? When is it longer?

A. The rule in Texas, called the Statute of Limitations, is that the four-year clock starts on the day the last payment due on the account was in default. Under this law, you have a defense to any lawsuit filed too late. I said generally, however, because if you start paying again, the clock may be reset. Based on what you say, however, I can’t imagine an exception. I suggest you let the collector know the debt is more than four years old, you will defend any lawsuit, and any legal action would be barred by the Statute of Limitations. In my opinion, a threat to sue or a lawsuit violates federal and state debt collection laws.

Q. My friend was late on her rent at an apartment complex. One day she came home and found a “lien notice” where her TV used to be. They took both of her TVs in the apartment. This makes no sense to me, and I have never heard of this. Where I come from, that’s stealing! Is this legal for them to do?

A. This is stealing if someone else were to do it, but probably not when it is the landlord. Under Texas law, a landlord may have a “landlord’s lien” on the tenant’s property, and may be able to take it if the rent is not paid. For such a lien to exist, it must be written in the lease and be bold or underlined. If there is no such provision in the lease, the landlord has no right to take the property.

A landlord also may take only certain property. The list of protected property includes wearing apparel, food, some furniture, children’s toys and a car. Electronic equipment such as a television is not protected and may be taken. Finally, if the landlord takes any property, he must leave a notice telling you what he took and what you must do to get it back. A landlord who violates this law is responsible for all the tenant’s damages, plus a penalty of $500 or one month’s rent, whichever is greater. To learn more about the landlord’s lien, look at the landlord tenant section on my website,