Judge extends court order requiring Mesquite’s Hillcrest Apartments to provide hotels to tenants

A Dallas County court on Friday extended a temporary restraining order against owners of Hillcrest apartments following demands by the city of Mesquite for the resort to fix widespread heat outages, hot water outages and leaks. open sewer problems.

The extension of the temporary restraining order by Judge Ashley Wysocki means that the apartment complex must provide tenants who do not have working air conditioning, adequate heating, hot water and air conditioning. other services alternative accommodation until repairs are made. The extension expires on April 7, when another hearing will take place.

But residents interviewed by The Dallas Morning News say that they have not been offered accommodation and that sufficient repairs have not been made.

Lawyers representing Hillcrest Apartments were not immediately available for comment.

The City of Mesquite sued Hillcrest landlords on Feb. 14 following an outcry from tenants who alleged years of trouble. The judge’s decision comes weeks after a previous court order that required the landlord to provide alternative housing for tenants whose units have no heat or hot water and units that have sewer blockages or are within 200 feet of open sewers.

Reporters spoke to several tenants at the approximately 350-unit complex this week and said they had not been contacted by apartment complex managers to obtain access to court-mandated free housing.

Mesquite City Manager Cliff Keheley previously told reporters that city inspectors documented more than 150 units without heat from Feb. 23-24, when temperatures were below zero.

Keheley said residents should report heating, air conditioning and hot water outages to Hillcrest management first. After a tenant or the city notifies the landlord of needed air conditioning, heating, or sewer repairs, the apartment complex must provide the free hotel room to affected residents within three hours.

Residents should then contact the city if Hillcrest management fails to complete repairs in a timely manner, Keheley said.

Lack of repairs

At Friday’s hearing, Mesquite’s attorneys requested that air conditioning be added to the judge’s list of repairs, city officials said.

The city said in a statement that the court schedule precluded a full hearing, but the judge ordered an extension and the amendment to add air conditioning to the previous order.

Brittany Jones, a longtime resident who is one of the leaders in the charge to improve conditions at the resort, says she has no confidence Hillcrest owners will comply with the order, or that the city ​​will do a lot in response.

“I have no confidence that anyone can fix anything,” Jones said. “Everyone knows but nobody does anything. They’re playing hot potato with Hillcrest Apartments.

Robert Eden, an attorney who previously represented Hillcrest Apartments, previously said in a statement sent to The news that management is working to complete the repairs, which have been delayed due to “supply chain issues, pandemic-related contractor shortages and other uncontrollable challenges.”

But Jones alleges the Hillcrest real estate office no longer stores paper work orders, in what she says is an effort to stop residents sending in repair requests by certified mail.

Sending written demands by certified mail is one way tenants can gain standing in court to force their landlord to repair damage to their apartment.

Jones won $5,000 in damages last week against the former owners of the Hillcrest Apartments in a lawsuit for redress and relief, a case that many legal experts say is a tough one for tenants to win if they owe rent payments.

Jones said she helped at least two other Hillcrest tenants file lawsuits and restitution in Dallas County courts this week.

Despite winning her case against her landlord, Jones still has to find somewhere else to live after the Dallas County Housing Choice Voucher program deemed her apartment uninhabitable in November.

“The deck is stacked against us”

Other lawsuits regarding Hillcrest Apartments were heard in Dallas County courts over the past week.

Some Hillcrest residents told reporters they had fallen behind on rent and thought they didn’t have to pay because Hillcrest was being sued to fix their apartments. But unlike other states, Texas law doesn’t allow tenants to withhold rent for landlords who don’t complete repairs in a timely manner.

A Dallas County court dismissed eviction cases for about 20 Hillcrest residents on Friday because the landlord’s petition was improperly filed, according to Stuart Campbell, the executive attorney for the Dallas Eviction Advocacy Center, who represented tenants with Northwest Texas Legal Aid attorneys.

Several residents say that if they could move, they would. Nearly a dozen other residents said The news this week that local housing agencies who say they have to move out of substandard housing or likely lose federal housing reimbursements are giving them until the end of April to find new housing.

A couple said they called looking for apartments all day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but few had vacancies. When they do, they do not accept government housing vouchers.

Roderick Williams, a resident of the complex for 8 years, said he was told last month he had to move because his unit had failed inspection three times. But there is nowhere to go, he said.

He searched everywhere, he said, including the remote rural towns of Mesquite. But the only voucher-accepting properties he found with vacant units were large houses. He can’t afford the expensive rent or security deposit for a house like that, he said.

“The deck is stacked against us,” Williams said.

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