Tenants sue after Harvey eviction

 

Like many other families, Kristi Perez, 31, left most of her belongings behind in her apartment when she fled Hurricane Harvey's deadly path.

After the city issued a mandatory evacuation, the mother went with her wife and their two children to a shelter in Victoria, where they were eventually moved to Austin, she said. Several days later, the family returned to Victoria in hopes their home and belongings would still be intact.

But their hopes were crushed when the family discovered that all of their belongings were missing and another tenant had moved in, Perez said.

"It was our home," Perez said. "And then come to find out they just threw all our stuff out and moved other people in."

Perez is among four tenants who are suing Crossroads Apartments in Victoria for allegedly removing personal property from apartments rented by families displaced by Hurricane Harvey. The lawsuit alleges their landlord unlawfully seized property and didn't return it, in addition to wrongfully evicting the families without proper legal process.

According to the lawsuit, Linda's Rentals, which owns the property, didn't give notice to the families that they were moving new tenants into the homes. The company also refused to return hundreds of dollars in personal belongings to families who lived there, according to the lawsuit filed by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.

"We wanted to make sure that the community understands what's going on," said Hank Bostwick, the tenants' attorney.

Officials at Crossroads Apartments could not be reached after multiple requests for comment.

Perez first met with Legal Aid staff while she was staying in an American Red Cross shelter in Austin with her family, she said. It wasn't until her wife returned to Victoria that she found out someone else had moved into their home and all of their belongings were gone, she said.

Perez is going to school to earn her GED, and her wife was working two jobs to make ends meet. The family recently got a tax refund, so the mothers bought their sons new clothes, shoes and backpacks to start school, Perez said.

But all of that was gone, in addition to all their furniture, she said.

"I want my story put out there to help others that can't get out of there," Perez said.

According to the lawsuit, Perez and the three other tenants asked their landlord to return belongings, but it didn't happen. As of Oct. 16, none of the property had been returned, and the tenants' attorney hadn't received any response from Linda's Rentals.

State records show Linda's Rentals is based out of Dallas and has owned the properties since 2015. The business owns almost two dozen properties in Victoria, including some in Bloomington, according to property records.

But this isn't the first time there have been problems at the Crossroads Apartments.

About three months before Linda's Rentals purchased the property in February 2015, the former owner, Volunteers of Victoria, was sued after a 12-year-old boy died in a house fire, according to court records.

The lawsuit alleged that Volunteers of Victoria, a nonprofit that says it provides low-income housing, was negligent because it didn't install smoke detectors. The case, however, was dismissed by the plaintiff.

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Marina writes about housing, Hurricane Harvey recovery and local politics for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach Marina by emailing mriker@vicad.com or follow her on Twitter, @MarinaStarleaf.

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