Section 8 Renters File Suit

Section 8 Renters File Suit

Allege illegal discrimination at Fairway Apt. Complex

 

Eight tenants of Fairway Village Apart­ments are suing property owners Sage Apart­ment Communities Inc. and their subsidiary Fairway Village Apartments LLC for unlawful mistreatment and negligence. The complex is a project-based Section 8 property, meaning it receives money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to offer reduced rental rates to low-income families. Tina Greene, one of the plaintiffs, said that with no affordable housing alternatives nearby, the tenants had no other choice but to seek justice from the courts. “I think this lawsuit will show them that we are going to fight for our rights,” she said.

Section 8 Renters File Suit

The owners began major construction on the property in March 2015 to improve the complex’s outdated plumbing system. Residents say they were offered two options to compensate them for the inconvenience: a $2,400 stipend or a temporary stay at a nearby hotel. Some, however, claim that they never received the stipend after requesting it. Southwest Housing Com­pli­ance Corporation – the nonprofit subsidiary of the city’s Housing Authority which serves as contract administrator for Section 8 projects – investigated the complaint, along with 10 other complaints made against Fairway Village last year, but determined the property management to be in compliance in every case. Greene feels that she and the others who complained have since faced retaliation from property management. “They’ve singled out those of us who put up a fight,” she said.

Unable to relocate, some families found themselves stuck in a construction zone. Tenants, some elderly or disabled, say they have had to deal with constant noise and random holes surrounding their residence. Greene’s mother, Rosemary Martinez, who uses a walker to get around, fell into one of the holes last year. “My leg was bruised and swollen,” she said.

In coordination with the ongoing construction, residents say, the property managers have routinely shut off water and electricity to residents, often without warning. These withholdings, said the plaintiffs’ attorney Brian McGiverin, constitute illegal discrimination against renters who are disabled, because it has a disproportionate effect on their health and well-being. In addition, the plaintiffs allege that property owners have deferred important repairs, including plumbing and heating maintenance. Some tenants have also spotted rats and cockroaches since construction started. “There’s no reason why we should be living like this,” Martinez said. “This isn’t some poor country, this is the United States! This is the capital of Texas!”

Fairway Village was one of the sites hit by the Halloween floods last year, and the residents claim that it was made even worse by construction workers failing to remove debris from the storm drain in the parking lot. As a result, many of the tenants’ vehicles were damaged. Marisol Gauna, a Fair­way tenant of six years, said that a representative from Sage Apartment Com­mun­ities Inc. had visited residents after the flooding and told them that they would be reimbursed for repairs. Weeks later, they received a letter from the apartment office stating that there would be no reimbursements. Gauna, who paid out of pocket to repair her car, said that she felt slighted by property management. “One of the maintenance men told me that I should have been paying closer attention to the weather,” she said.

In January of this year, the property owners threatened some tenants with eviction unless they paid thousands of dollars. According to McGiverin, considering that most Fairway Village renters pay around $200 each month, these excessive totals could only be arrived at by including late fees, which would contradict the terms of their lease, or by including unpaid rent from more than two years before, which is beyond the statute of limitations. Martinez, who has lived on the property for almost seven years, said that these threats were nothing new. “Almost every year there’s a new manager,” she said, “and every year they try this.”

The plaintiffs are grateful that their testimony is finally being recognized. “We tried so hard,” Martinez said, “to get somebody to pay attention to what we’re going through, and nobody ever listened, until Brian started working with us.” McGiverin said that the property owners have been able to shirk their legal obligations partly due to the city Code Enforcement Department‘s failure to follow up with the tenants’ complaints. “It’s a matter of priority,” he said. “The Depart­ment focuses on inspecting higher-value properties Downtown or elsewhere rather than investigating claims made by people living in poverty.”

At press time, Sage Apartment Com­mun­ities Inc. had not responded to the Chronicle‘s request for comment.

Lakeview Residents Contemplate Suit

DLM Attorney Brian McGiverin comments in this article on the controversy at Lakeview Aparments, saying it is part of Austin’s larger system of economic segregation and gentrification.

McGiverin is quoted saying that “[w]ithout actively integrating affordable housing into high-opportunity areas …’Austin will become another city where most people cannot afford to live.'”

Lakeview Residents Contemplate Suit

Allege intimidation by property managers

Robin Wilkins (l) and her son Zeferino Barron
PHOTO BY JOHN ANDERSON

Cypress Real Estate Advisors could be facing a lawsuit from tenants who were displaced from Lakeview Apartments, a complex the company demolished last fall before selling the property to software megafirm Oracle. Brian McGiverin, one of the attorneys representing former residents, said it will take time to collect information from the roughly 200 individuals affected by the closure, but that “the odds of litigation are very good.”

Robert Doggett with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, also representing the former residents, believes that Cypress is guilty of wrongdoing. Based on his clients’ testimonies, he thinks the landlord and property managers, JBlue Real Estate Services, were following direction from Cypress when they allegedly intimidated residents. “They were playing an emotional game with these people,” he said.

Joey Carmona, who had lived at the apartment complex for over seven years, acted as an unofficial spokesperson for the Spanish-speaking residents. After the mid-June announcement that residents would be required to vacate by the end of September, relations between the landlord’s office and renters deteriorated, Carmona said. “We were trying to figure out what to do, how to survive, but they made it very complicated.”

According to Carmona, letters from the landlord felt more like harassment than courtesy, and residents generally felt mistreated by office staff. Like many others, he had not anticipated having to move and was forced to ask his brother for money. “My dogs were my main concern,” Carmona said. At Lakeview, his dachshund and three Chihuahuas had enjoyed access to a yard where they could play, but his new residence does not offer the same amenities. “I don’t intend to stay here,” he said.

Robin Wilkins, a resident of Lakeview for five years, said her new apartment costs twice as much as her apartment did at Lakeview, and she expects another move in the not-too-distant future. Her family has lived in South Austin since 1984, but as affordable housing continues to vanish, she believes she may have to leave the area. “I know I’m not going to be able to continue living here,” she said. “I feel like I’m being shoved out of my home.”

The unplanned move has affected Wil­kins’ son’s education. He had attended Metz Elementary since kindergarten but was transferred to Allison Elementary after the family relocated. His grades have dropped since then, and Wilkins has started taking him to weekend classes in an effort to bring them back up. “A child has to have stability in their lives to succeed, just like any of us,” she said.

In an email to the Chronicle, Cypress representative Steve Clark wrote that previous coverage concerning the move-out has been unfair. “We have found that some parties have consistently and we believe intentionally misrepresented material facts to the press and to public officials. There have clearly been a significant number of intentionally inaccurate claims.”

Clark believes that Cypress provided enough time for families to make the necessary arrangements for their children’s education. “We announced our intentions in the summer,” he wrote, “as soon as we made the decision, in order to accommodate the beginning of the school year.”

Sandy Torres had lived at Lakeview for about a year before receiving notice that she had to leave within a few months. “It was the only place I could afford,” she said. As the deadline for the move-out approached, her interactions with the landlord’s office added to the stress of preparing to leave, Torres said. A week before moving out, the toilet in her apartment stopped working, so she called the office to have it repaired. She was informed that the maintenance service was no longer available to tenants, but that she was free to use the restroom in the office at her convenience. After asking what she was supposed to do when the office was closed over the weekend, she was told, “That’s up to you.”

Clark disputes the claim that repairs were unavailable. “The landlord instructed JBlue to continue standard maintenance of the property while occupied,” he wrote. “JBlue has confirmed that the on-site staff understood this policy and continued maintenance operations. Further, our records show significant continuing maintenance expenses prior to completion of the vacating of the property.”

After the closure had been announced, a security guard from the office began patrolling the grounds of the complex, according to Torres. On more than one occasion, she said, he stood in front of her window and peered inside. “He was stalking me,” she says. After she notified TRLA about the invasion of privacy, the guard disappeared. “I hope nobody else has to go through what I experienced there,” Torres said.

Despite the hardships they’ve endured, the former Lakeview residents are grateful to TRLA for helping them find new places to live and representing them in their dispute with Cypress. “I don’t have a lot of family, and I don’t know a lot of people here,” Torres said. “They helped me a lot.”

Carmona believes that with TRLA’s help, the displaced residents may see some reparations for the costs of the move. “None of us are giving up,” he said.

Recently, Wilkins participated in a meeting with representatives from the city’s Housing Authority and Code Department. “I felt like my voice was being heard,” she said.

Council Member Pio Renteria believes that the City Council is making progress in creating more affordable housing, but that unfortunately there was little it could do immediately to help the former Lakeview residents. “It’s a very slow process,” he said.

The city’s plans to expand tenants’ rights and affordable housing do not address the underlying causes of renter relocation, says McGiverin. “Historically,” he said, “the city has mostly focused on funding new affordable housing without concern for where it was placed.” Without actively integrating affordable housing into high-opportunity areas, McGiverin believes that “Austin will become another city where most people cannot afford to live.”

With Oracle’s Expansion, Some Renters Lose, Others May Gain

DLM Attorney Brian McGiverin comments on economic segregation in Austin. The economic segregation in Austin is among the worst in the country.

With Oracle’s Expansion, Some Renters Lose, Others May Gain

JAN 8, 2016

Can a landlord change your locks? Ask a lawyer!

Can a landlord change your locks?

Ask a Lawyer!

Has your landlord changed the locks on your apartment?  If so, there are some key things to know.

Lockout

A lockout is not an eviction.

It is important to remember that a landlord can only legally evict you from an apartment with a court order. The law allows a landlord to change a tenant’s locks in limited situations, but also puts several restrictions on the landlord to make sure a tenant will only be locked out for a short time.

The purpose of the law is to help landlords make tenants meet them face-to-face, nothing more.

The landlord must give you a written notice several days before changing your locks.

The law requires a landlord to give a tenant a written warning before changing the locks. The warning must give three days’ notice if it is hand-delivered or posted, and five days’ notice if mailed. If the landlord doesn’t give that notice before changing the locks, he has broken the law.

The landlord must give you a new key quickly.

After the landlord changes a tenants’ locks, he has to put a written notice on the outside of your door that says:

  1. Where the tenant can go 24 hours a day to obtain the new key; or give you a telephone number the tenant can call 24 hours a day to have the new key delivered promptly;
  2. The amount of rent and other charges the tenant owes; and
  3. Tell the tenant that the landlord must provide the tenant with a new key at any hour whether or not the tenant pays the rent owed.

What if my landlord does not give me a key?

You have a right to get back into your apartment. If your landlord will not give you a new key, you should go to your local Justice of the Peace and ask for a “writ of reentry.”

If the judge issues a writ of reentry, a constable will deliver the writ to the landlord, ordering him to give you a new key. The landlord is supposed to act right away after getting the writ; if he doesn’t, the judge can hold him in contempt, and the constable may use “reasonable force” to get back into the apartment.

You can sue a landlord for breaking the law.

If a landlord locks you out of your apartment, but doesn’t give you the proper written notice and/or does not give you a new key, you can sue him for damages. You should consult with an attorney to learn about your options