Jump To Story :

City Loses  Zoning Case on Appeal

 Court of Appeals Reverses and Renders Judgment in Favor of Contractor

Neither city nor owner giving up in Old East Dallas apartment fight
Board rules against 24-apartment Old East Dallas complex that’s been split into 62 unit
Gaston Avenue apartment owner sues to retain his certificate of occupancy
Plano votes down golf net proposal


Teed Off in Plano

Troubled apartment complex shuts down Group to buy property, begin $5 million overhaul

Tenants file suit over apartments Owners’ attorney says thousands of dollars spent in improvements

Pioneer black officer jailed in code fight

Jailed building owner finds many supporters

2 Waco apartment complexes increasingly taking former tenants to court over damages

Neither city nor owner giving up in Old East Dallas apartment fight
Nancy Visser

For years, the city has been trying to get Leroy Billingsley to clean up or close down his Old East Dallas apartments known as 4931 Gaston. And for years, the landlord has fought back.

At issue is whether 4931 Gaston is operating as an illegal residential hotel or is simply an apartment complex that offers roommate agreements for its three-bedroom units.

The sides will face off in two hearings this week: Billingsley is asking the city Board of Adjustment to overturn a building official’s decision to revoke his certificate of occupancy. The city will ask for a retrial after a district court judge ruled that the apartments are not considered a residential hotel.

The case illustrates how difficult it can be to force apartment owners to make improvements despite the combined efforts of city attorneys, police and code enforcement.

Not all property owners dig in the way Billingsley has done, said Cody McCullar, the city’s Old East Dallas community prosecutor.

“It’s difficult to turn around a place,” he said, “but it’s a lot easier if the other side is willing to meet you halfway – when you have someone who looks at it and says, ‘I have a problem here and I’d like to take care of it, what can I do?’ This case has been more antagonistic than what we’re used to.”

Billingsley’s attorney, Israel Suster, said 4931 Gaston is an acceptable place for people with few other affordable housing options. He said the city is trying to shut down the apartments because it caters to a high number of people who live on government disability pay.

“They live on their Supplemental Security Income,” Suster said. “But for that, a lot of these people would not be able to afford a place and would be out on the street. And they deserve to have some kind of a place to stay.”

Suster declined a request for comment from Billingsley.

Residents from neighboring Swiss Avenue, Munger Place and Junius Heights are closely watching the legal proceedings. They want the court to find 4931 Gaston is operating as a residential hotel so that it can be shut down for violating zoning rules.

They think the transient tenants at 4931 Gaston – where the rooms are rented for $105 a week – contribute to crime and safety issues in the area.

Michael Segura, a past president of the Munger Place Historic District Association, said he has seen people having sex in cars in the parking lot. A neighbor driving his sons home from a soccer game last week said he saw people smoking crack behind the building. “How do you explain that to a third-grader?” Segura asked.

But Suster said claims that the tenants of 4931 Gaston contribute to the neighborhood crime problems are false. “That’s not our fault, and it has nothing to do with these people who are living there.”

He said the problems come from nonresidents who loiter around the apartments or at the bus stop out front.

A city certificate of occupancy for 4931 Gaston was issued to the Billingsley Family Limited Partnership in 1993 for a multi-family dwelling with 24 units. Billingsley subsequently walled off the living rooms so that each two-bedroom apartment had three locked bedrooms that were rented individually by the week. The tenants shared the bathrooms and kitchens.

A 2007 city inspection found holes in the walls and ceilings, non-working smoke alarms and security lights, sewage in the front grass, mattresses littering the back and roaches throughout. The code inspector also noted that each apartment had been illegally converted to three units.

Billingsley fixed the code violations. And then he sued.

“The city contends that he’s operating a residential hotel. We filed a suit for declaratory relief that we’re not a residential hotel,” Suster said.

Last fall, District Judge Carl Ginsberg issued a summary judgment that Billingsley was operating a residential hotel, and he ordered the certificate of occupancy revoked.

But by the time the case went to trial in June, Billingsley had set up a lease system in which tenants agree to rent by the month (though they can pay by the week) and sign roommate agreements giving management permission to assign tenants to the other bedrooms.

Ginsberg subsequently found that Billingsley was not operating a residential hotel. The judge noted that the apartments were being rented to “tenant roommates.” He also noted that city zoning defines a residential hotel as having six or more guest rooms with a shared common area. However, tenants at 4931 Gaston share a common area only with the roommates within their apartments.

Despite that finding, a city building inspector revoked the certificate of occupancy. On Monday, Billingsley will seek to have that decision overturned before the city Board of Adjustments.

“At the end of the day, we’re going to get our CO. You can’t deny a CO based on an order that was reversed,” Suster said.

On Wednesday, the city will seek a new trial to try to prove once again that Billingsley is operating a residential hotel.

“We want to be able to enforce our zoning ordinance,” DeCurtis said.

Virginia McAlester, a Swiss Avenue resident and local preservationist, said Ginsberg’s ruling lays the groundwork for any apartments to be subdivided into rooms for rent. “This impacts not just our historic districts but should be of grave concern to every neighborhood with apartments throughout the city,” she said.


The property at 4931 Gaston Ave. is zoned for multi-family apartments, but Dallas officials contend it is being operated as a residential hotel, where tenants rent rooms by the week and share common living spaces. Here are key parts of the dispute:

Residential hotel definition: The city zoning ordinance defines a residential hotel as a facility that has six or more guest rooms with some shared living space, such as the kitchen or the bathroom. City zoning requires residential hotels be at least a mile apart. That’s to make sure no single community is burdened by a dense population of fairly transient residents, said Cody McCullar, the city’s community prosecutor for Old East Dallas.

At 4931 Gaston: Owner Leroy Billingsley received a certificate of occupancy in 1993 for a 24-unit, multi-family apartment complex. He turned each living room into a bedroom and rented out the 62 bedrooms by the week. In each apartment, tenants from three bedrooms share a kitchen and bathroom.

The court: A judge ruled that 4931 Gaston is not a residential hotel. He found that guestrooms were not being rented separately but were rented to tenant roommates and that the apartments did not have six or more guestrooms with a shared common area.

The neighbors: Homeowners are watching the case closely and support the city attorney’s request for a new trial to revisit the issue of whether 4931 Gaston is a residential hotel. They warn that if the operation is permitted within multi-family zoning, owners of aging apartment buildings throughout the city could do similar conversions to take in more rent.

Copyright 1998 The Dallas Morning News

Board rules against 24-apartment Old East Dallas complex that’s been split into 62 unit
Nancy VisserThe Dallas Board of Adjustment on Monday upheld a building official’s decision to revoke the certificate of occupancy for 4931 Gaston Ave., an apartment building in Old East Dallas that the city contends has been operating as a residential hotel.About 50 residents from the surrounding neighborhoods – Swiss Avenue, Munger Place, Junius Heights and Peak’s Addition – attended the hearing wearing green “NO CO [certificate of occupancy]” stickers.

They say that the area already has a lot of residential hotels – which generally rent rooms by the day or week – and that 4931 Gaston only adds to the high density of transients who cause problems in the neighborhoods.

“We are delighted with the Board of Adjustment’s decision,” said Rene Schmidt, president of the Junius Heights Historic District. “East Dallas has made tremendous strides in improving the integrity of its neighborhoods. Gaston Avenue is coming back, and this is a step in the right direction.”

Leroy Billingsley, owner of the Gaston Avenue apartment building, immediately loses his certificate of occupancy and must apply for a new one, said Melissa Miles, the assistant city attorney who argued the case before the board.

“Legally, he should not be operating, because his CO is gone,” Miles said.

But Israel Suster, Billingsley’s attorney, said the next step for his client will be to sue in state District Court to have the board’s decision overturned.

“We expect that a district judge will throw out the board’s decision,” Suster said. “And I will tell you, this was a very political decision because of the folks who were in attendance who tried to organize and put pressure on. Had none of these people shown up or written any letters, you would be looking at a different result.”

He said his client has never operated a residential hotel at 4931 Gaston.

According to city zoning rules, a residential hotel is a business that has six or more guest rooms where the tenants share common living areas. City zoning dictates that residential hotels be spaced at least a mile apart so no neighborhood is burdened by a high number of them.

Billingsley’s family received the original certificate of occupancy for 4931 Gaston in 1991 for a 24-unit multifamily apartment building. Billingsley subsequently walled off the living room in each unit and began renting out 62 bedrooms on a weekly basis. The tenants had separate locks on their rooms but shared the kitchens and bathrooms.

When the city began to question the operation several years ago, Billingsley sued, asking for a judgment that the operation is not a residential hotel.

Last fall, state District Judge Carl Ginsberg issued a summary judgment that Billingsley was operating a residential hotel. But by the time the case went to trial in June, Billingsley had set up a lease system in which tenants agree to rent by the month (though they can pay by the week) and sign roommate agreements giving management permission to assign tenants to the other bedrooms. Ginsberg subsequently found that Billingsley was not operating a residential hotel.

On Wednesday, the city will argue for a new trial in a hearing before Judge Ginsberg.

Miles said it is clear that 4931 Gaston had long been run as a residential hotel. She said the original certificate of occupancy for 24 units was improperly obtained because the apartments were altered so individual rooms could be rented.

“It doesn’t matter that they got caught and tried to fix the falsehood. It’s the falsehood that leads to this revocation,” she told the board.

Board member Jim Gaspard said the evidence was “overwhelming” that the property was not being used for multifamily apartments. “There’s no question the present use is not compatible with the neighborhood,” he said.

The vote was unanimous to uphold the decision to revoke the certificate of occupancy.

Copyright 1998 The Dallas Morning News


Gaston Avenue apartment owner sues to retain his certificate of occupancy
Nancy Visser

The owner of a Gaston Avenue apartment who lost his certificate of occupancy last week over whether he’s operating a residential hotel instead of multi-family apartments filed a civil suit Tuesday seeking to have the city’s decision overturned.

The city contends that Leroy Billingsley is operating residential hotel in the 24-unit apartment building he owns at 4931 Gaston. In each unit, Billingsley converted the living room to a bedroom and rents out the three bedrooms to tenants who sign roommate leases and share the kitchen and bathroom.

District Court Judge Carl Ginsberg initially found that the operation was a residential hotel. But after a full trial last June, he determined that it no longer met the definition of a residential hotel under city zoning laws. The appeal filed Tuesday seeks to have the city reinstate the certificate of occupancy based on that ruling.

“It makes no sense why a month after trial, a building official will go and revoke the certificate of occupancy based on a rescinded order,” said Israel Suster, Billingsley’s attorney.

Copyright 1998 The Dallas Morning News


Plano votes down golf net proposal

Dallas Business Journal – by Dave Moore Staff Writer

Enormous golf ball-stopping nets just don’t seem to go away in Plano.

The 5,000-square-foot net built by a Plano family next to the Prestonwood Country Club in Plano was supposed to be taken down late last year.

It’s still there. And Feb. 18, the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission again confronted the issue — this time, it appeared as an ordinance that would have allowed even higher nets in the city. City staff members say that golf club owners — they declined to say exactly who — asked the city’s staff to draft an ordinance that would allow them to prevent wayward golf balls from damaging property and people. test

Read more: Plano votes down golf net proposal – Dallas Business Journal


Teed off in Plano

 Dallas Business Journal – by Dave Moore Staff Writer

When it comes to preserving property values in the high-dollar Hills of Indian Creek neighborhood in Plano, neighbors are praying for a major net loss.

The “net” in question is a 5,000-square-foot barrier that homeowner Saadi Darvish put up behind his house to keep golf balls from injuring his family and his property.

About 18 months ago, after one too many balls struck Darvish’s stucco home, he took action by erecting the 50-foot-by-100-foot barrier which rivals, in size, the interiors of most homes in the neighborhood.

Read more: Teed off in Plano – Dallas Business Journal


Troubled apartment complex shuts down Group to buy property, begin $5 million overhaul
Craig Flournoy Staff Writer of The Dallas Morning News
Published: November 17, 1998

A troubled east Oak Cliff apartment complex, criticized by tenants and police for its substandard conditions
and frequent shootings, closed Monday. But that is not the end of the Sara Gardens Apartments. A new
ownership group is scheduled to purchase the 206-unit property soon and begin a $5 million renovation,
according to Israel Suster, an attorney representing the current owner.

“It should be a very nice property,” he said Monday night.

The renovation will be financed with federal tax breaks awarded by the state housing department, Mr.
Suster said.

The complex, near East Ledbetter Drive and Interstate 45, has been steeped in controversy for months
because of conditions and crime there. The last tenants did not leave without difficulty Monday.

Dina Levy, an organizer with the Texas Tenants’ Union, said a 67-year-old disabled woman called her on
Monday from the complex in hysterics.

“She said that workers there were going to board her up in her unit,” Ms. Levy said.
Ms. Levy helped the woman find replacement housing.

Last month, state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, helped broker a two-week extension of the deadline for
vacating the apartments and helped dozens of tenants relocate.

Ms. Levy said she has mixed feelings about the complex’s future. She said she is worried about the role of
Alex Stolarski, the president of the current management group.

“I am anxious to see it redeveloped and, at the same time, concerned about Stolarski being part of the new
ownership group,” she said. “He ran it into the ground.”

Mr. Suster said Mr. Stolarski will be a fine landlord.

“With the change in ownership, there will be a completely different philosophy in running the property,” he

Copyright 1998 The Dallas Morning News


Tenants file suit over apartments Owners’ attorney says thousands of dollars spent in improvements
Laura Griffin Staff Writer of The Dallas Morning News
Published: August 15, 1998

Fifteen-year-old Veronica Miller sleeps on the floor in her apartment at Sara Gardens, hoping to stay out of
the line of stray bullets. Even when there’s no sound of gunfire, it’s not easy to sleep, she said.
Temperatures inside the two-bedroom apartment have at times this summer reached more than 100

“It’s terrible here. It’s scary and the heat is unbelievable,” she said, adding that she and her brothers and
sisters don’t even try to sleep until it cools off about 2 a.m.

Her mother, Nancy Miller, has joined other residents in suing the complex owners for relief from what
residents and authorities agree are devastating conditions at the east Oak Cliff apartments.

Israel Suster, attorney for Sara Gardens Associates Ltd., said the owners are making a good-faith effort
and have “spent thousands of dollars renovating the property and thousands providing security.”

The residents’ battle for a safe environment began earlier this summer, after police killed a man during a
shootout on the property. A police and code enforcement crackdown followed. The fight has now moved
into court.

“This could be a nice place if someone cared enough to let it be that way,” Ms. Miller said. “No one should
have to live this way. Their response to our complaints is to tell us to move. But a lot of us can’t afford

The conditions are so bad, she says, that Child Protective Services has threatened to take her seven
children away if she can’t keep them cool.

“The Dallas police gave me five fans,” she said. “So it’s much better now. They came out yesterday, and it
was 86 degrees inside. Of course, it was only 86 degrees outside, too.”

The lawsuit, brought with the help of Legal Services of North Texas, says that the criminal activity at the
complex has forced tenants to “live as prisoners in their own homes.”

When the air conditioning doesn’t work, that prison can be a miserable place, said Robert Doggett, who is
representing the tenants.

“It’s just disgusting, the way these people have to live,” he said. “And, the sad thing is, many can’t afford to
go anywhere else.”

The lawsuit seeks to force the owners of the property to correct hazardous conditions, to have a receiver
appointed to take over the property for a year and to reduce tenants’ rents until repairs are made.

Mr. Suster said that maintenance has been difficult because previous owners kept the complex in
disrepair for years. Also, Sara Gardens’ location in a crime-ridden part of town, between East Ledbetter
Drive and Interstate 45, has made matters worse, he said.

“We’d like to see more active involvement from the Dallas Police Department,” he said. “Property owners
can’t be responsible for patrolling the area.”

As for the air-conditioning problems this summer, Mr. Suster said, the owners have tried to make repairs
as needed to a 30-year-old system.

“It’s the second-hottest summer ever, and the system’s working at capacity,” he said. “There have been
times it hasn’t worked. But maintenance crews are supposed to be responsive.

“It’s not a perfect property and it will never be perfect short of completely overhauling it. But they are
working to make improvements.”

Tenants say that management has not been responsive to their complaints. On the contrary, the lawsuit
contends, management retaliated after Ms. Miller started making complaints by serving her an eviction

“I’m going to keep fighting this,” she said.

After the fatal shootout in June, in which two police officers were injured, the property was the site of a city
inspection blitz with officers from the police, fire department and code enforcement investigating

Since then the Police Department’s S.A.F.E. team has been out to the complex two or three times a week,
said Sgt. Joe Henderson.

“They’ve got some problems they have to address and work on,” he said. “We’re going to reinspect them
Members of the group that call themselves the New Black Panthers have joined the tenants and are
helping them band together against management.

One of those members, Raymonn McCullar, has lived at Sara Gardens for almost three years. This
summer he bought a window unit to provide some relief from the heat. He also got a cat to chase away
rats, he said.

“Part of our platform is to demand decent housing,” Mr. McCullar said. “We’re getting ready to start pulling
patrols on the property. There’s no lighting at all and there are a lot of abandoned buildings out here that
women and children could get snatched into.”

While the grown-ups fight it out in court, children such as 15-year-old Veronica look forward to the hours
during the day that they will be away from home and in school – a safe and cool haven.
“I don’t like it here,” she said. “I’m scared to even go outside.”

Copyright 1998 The Dallas Morning News


Pioneer black officer jailed in code fight
Dallasite says he can’t afford to fix building cited by city as fire trap
Published: June 14, 2004

Lee Bilal served Dallas as one of its first black police officers. Last week, locked in a fight over city code
violations, the 85-year-old went to jail.

Mr. Bilal was jailed for contempt of court after failing to make repairs to his three-story commercial building
in South Dallas, which city officials say is a fire trap. He was booked Monday and released Wednesday

“Being a former police officer, I would hope that he would understand the importance of complying with the
law and safety regulations,” said Dallas City Attorney Madeleine Johnson.

Mr. Bilal said he can’t afford the estimated $250,000 in repairs to the Second Avenue building that once
housed a beauty college and a teen organization.

“At my age, who’s going to give me those kinds of funds?” said Mr. Bilal, who was known as Lee Gilbert
Brotherton when he was hired in 1947 by the Dallas Police Department.

Ms. Johnson said Mr. Bilal, who left the force in 1950, was jailed only as a last resort and after two
contempt of court orders.

“Usually when we file for contempt, it gets their attention,” she said. “This is the first time we’ve gotten
virtually no compliance.”

Mr. Bilal’s building came to the attention of city officials 11/2 years ago, when fire officials found that it had
no sprinkler system and contained debris and combustible materials.

“The building was in dreadful condition,” Ms. Johnson said. “Fire officials did not want to send inspectors
onto the third floor because of rotted wood.”

She said Mr. Bilal, who owns more than a dozen commercial and residential properties in Dallas County,
never mentioned that he didn’t have the money to make the repairs. When the case went to trial last year,
Mr. Bilal was fined $100,000 and ordered to put a sprinkler system in the building.
During the last 18 months, Mr. Bilal has entered into two agreements with the court, but he failed to install
a sprinkler system in the building or board it up, authorities said.

A fence recently has been installed around the vacant building. Mr. Bilal, whose next court date is July 11,
said he hasn’t boarded up the property because “it’s difficult to sell a building when it’s boarded up.”

Mr. Bilal said he is being targeted because of his race.

“This is racial,” he said, adding that the city has “harassed” him to repair the vacant building and that his
jailing was too severe. “Would they ever do this to a white person?” he said.

Ms. Johnson said this case is just one of many that the city is filing over code violations.

“He’s in no way been singled out,” Ms. Johnson said. “We’ve gone to court on many properties.”

Mr. Bilal and the late Ben Thomas are considered the Police Department’s first black officers.

They were not allowed to drive squad cars or train with white officers, and they were assigned to what is
now the State-Thomas area. It was then known as North Dallas, the black section of the city roughly
defined by State Street, Ross Avenue, Washington Avenue and Allen Street.

More than 50 years after working in Dallas law enforcement, Mr. Bilal said, he worries what impression this
incident will leave, especially on black children.

“My record is damaged, and I don’t think it’s right,” he said. “I have 15 grandchildren, 16 greatgrandchildren
and two great-great grandchildren. What kind of example is this for them?”

Asked about Mr. Bilal’s contributions to the city, Ms. Johnson said: “I have no doubt he’s done some
wonderful things in his life. I just wish he’d do the right thing now.”


Jailed building owner finds many supporters
HOLLY YAN Staff Writer
Published: June 16, 2004

A group of black business leaders rallied Tuesday in support of an 85-year-old man who was jailed for
three days because he hadn’t made repairs to a dilapidated building he owns.

Lee Bilal, one of the city’s first black Dallas police officers in the 1940s, was held after being cited twice for
contempt of court after failing to pay $150,000 in fines and make repairs to a vacant building at 4408
Second Ave., near Fair Park.

At a meeting of the Pylon Salesmanship Club on Tuesday, members said the city’s actions in urging that
Mr. Bilal be held in contempt of court is a case of “selective justice.”

“It seems like blatant discrimination,” said the Imam Hassan Karriem of the Masjid Taqullah house of

Calvin Johnson, Mr. Bilal’s attorney, said the city’s demands are unrealistic.

“You can’t ask a person to pay $150,000 and put all this money into all these repairs in such a short period
of time,” Mr. Johnson said.

But City Attorney Madeleine Johnson said the judge offered to reduce Mr. Bilal’s original fine, which was
$100,000, to $10,000 if he agreed to fix the property. Those improvements included boarding up broken
windows, maintaining the lawn and building a 6-foot fence around the building.

Mr. Johnson said Mr. Bilal tried the best he could. The day Mr. Bilal was jailed, for example, the man he
hired to build a fence outside the building had just completed construction. Mr. Johnson said Mr. Bilal
spent $27,000 on roofing and boarding projects that were never completed.

According to code inspection reports, the problems with Mr. Bilal’s property began in April 2002, when
inspectors noticed broken windows and a damaged roof and floors. Ms. Johnson said over the next year
and a half, the city gave Mr. Bilal several deadlines that were not met and she said he never explained the
seriousness of his problems.

“If we were contacted with a problem, of course we would have talked to him,” Ms. Johnson said.
Ms. Johnson said the city has hundreds of code violations to attend to and is cracking down more.
But Pylon members said Mr. Bilal didn’t receive the respect he deserved.

“It’s the difference between how you treat an Anglo businessperson with a black businessperson, that’s
where the disparity is,” said Sandra Crenshaw, president of Neighborhood Improvement Association.
“We’re trying to offer Jerry Jones a half a billion dollars” to build a new stadium for the Dallas Cowboys,
she said. “But the city won’t help Mr. Bilal.”

Some business leaders also said Mr. Bilal was being treated unfairly considering his advanced age. But
Ms. Johnson said other older property owners have struggled to fix their properties but eventually were
able to finish.

Although the building’s former tenants – including a nonprofit beauty college and a group to help teens –
originally agreed to pay about $2,000 each in monthly rent to Mr. Bilal, they never paid, Mr. Johnson said.

“But Mr. Bilal let them stay because he wanted to help the community,” he said.

He said Mr. Bilal also paid all utility bills for about 22 months.

The building has been vacant for about six months, Mr. Bilal said.

Several people at the meeting said they were puzzled why Mr. Bilal was apparently the first person to be
jailed for contempt of court relating to code violations.

Ms. Johnson said that though she is sorry Mr. Bilal had to be jailed, she said it is uncommon for a person
not to comply after twice being held in contempt of court.


2 Waco apartment complexes increasingly taking former tenants to court over damages

By Cindy V. Culp Tribune-Herald staff writer
Published August 16, 2009

Two local apartment complexes have filed lawsuits against multiple former tenants, alleging they caused damage totaling
hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Attorneys for the complexes, Saddlebrook and Saddlebrook West apartments in Waco, says the suits are justified. But
some targeted tenants claim the apartments are acting unfairly.

The complexes, located in West Waco, are some of the most upscale in the area. Many tenants are well-paid professionals.

During the past two years, the complexes have filed at least 34 suits against former tenants. A few are pending. Some
have been dismissed, and others have resulted in judgments for the apartments, with amounts ranging from about $500
to nearly $10,000.

Last month, however, a former tenant prevailed at trial. Baylor University associate professor Sung Joon Jang and his
wife had been sued by Saddlebrook West for alleged damage to the carpet and countertops.

The Jangs contend they left the apartment in better condition than when they moved in. Their attorney, Dan Tilly of
Waco, tracked down the previous tenant, who testified in court that her family had either caused or inherited the
problems for which the Jangs were charged.

The jury ordered the complex to pay the nearly $12,000 in legal fees the Jangs have incurred.

Jeffrey Sprigg, a Plano attorney who represents both complexes, said Saddlebrook West is appealing the verdict and is
optimistic it will prevail. His partner, Israel Suster, said the fact that the complexes have won most of the suits is an
indication they are acting legitimately. He also said the number of suits compared to the number of tenants is small.
Saddlebrook has 216 units and Saddlebrook West has 241 units, he said.

“In the apartment industry, that’s always a common complaint,” Suster said of tenants claiming they did not cause
damage. “. . . Everyone thinks it’s unfair when they get sued.”

A Tribune-Herald review of court records found no other local apartment complex has filed multiple suits against former
tenants. Suster said that doesn’t mean his clients are overly aggressive, however.

What most complexes do to recover unpaid damages, Suster said, is send claims to a collection agency. The former
tenants then get “harassed” without the benefit of a third-party arbitrator like a judge, he said. Plus, the complexes
usually only recover a fraction of the money due, he said.

Because of that, the apartments’ owners have decided that bringing suit against former tenants is the best option, Suster
said. He added that most of Saddlebrook’s tenants are sophisticated people with the resources to hire an attorney.
Saddlebrook is owned by a company called MAJ Partners, and Saddlebrook West is owned by another firm called Z, Z &
Z Properties. The two companies have common investors, Sprigg said, and some are from the Waco area.

Tilly disputed the assertion that most tenants are equipped to fight lawsuits. The reality is that many do not have money
to hire a lawyer or the time necessary to defend themselves, especially if they are moving out of town, he said.

The Jangs’ experience with Saddlebrook West began two years ago, when the family moved to Waco from out of state.
When they arrived, the carpet in their unit had multiple stains, Tilly said.

That was a special problem for the Jangs, since their custom is to remove shoes before coming indoors, Tilly said. They
asked the management to replace the carpet but were denied, he said.

Another anomaly the Jangs noticed after move-in was a cutting board glued into the kitchen countertop. When they
asked a maintenance worker about it, they were told it was normal for the complex, Tilly said.

A year later, when the Jangs’ lease was about to be up, they contacted the apartment’s staff about doing a walk-through.
The purpose of a walk-through is to check for damage for which a tenant might be liable.

The staff acted surprised that the Jangs wanted to be present for the walk-through, Tilly said, and stalled in setting a
time. Because of that, the Jangs ended up vacating the apartment without a walk-through.

Not long after, the Jangs received a letter stating they owed damages totaling about $1,450. If they did not pay within five
days, the letter said, they would be liable for more than $4,200 because of fees that would kick in for violating their lease

When the Jangs went to the complex and asked to see the alleged damage, they were denied, Tilly said. The next day,
all of the carpet from the apartment was removed, he said.

At trial, apartment staff presented photos they said were of carpet stains. But the photos are so close up, there is no way
to know the true nature of the stains, what room they were in or even if they were in the Jangs’ apartment, Tilly said.

In preparing for the trial, Tilly learned the carpet in the Jangs’ apartment had not been replaced since the complex was
built in 2001.

“The day they moved in, the carpet was 6 years old,” Tilly said, noting that the complex has a six-year depreciation
schedule for carpet.

Tilly also tracked down the previous tenants. The wife testified at trial that the carpet had some stains when her family
moved in and that other stains had occurred during the two years they lived there. She also said the apartment had been
flooded on more than one occasion.

The prior tenant also testified that the kitchen countertop had been damaged when someone in the family set a hot pot
on it, Tilly said. She notified the apartment of the damage, she said.

The complex chose to “fix” the damaged portion by gluing the cutting board over it, Tilly said. Photos of the burned area
underneath the board were introduced at trial.

“What the apartments were doing was rather than pay that as maintenance costs was to charge Dr. and Mrs. Jang,” Tilly

Tilly said his clients are pleased with the jury’s decision.

“It has been unquestioningly an issue of principle and integrity,” Tilly said. “They felt accused of something they did not
do… One of the things that was important to them was that they make an example,” so others in the
community don’t have the same trouble.

Sprigg, the apartments’ attorney, said he did not want to get into details of the case because of the appeal. However, he
said the Jangs violated their lease agreement by not doing the walk-through. He also said he thinks they caused the
damage, saying there were inconsistencies in the previous tenant’s testimony.

Plus, Sprigg said, it wouldn’t make sense for the complex not to sue the former tenant if she had caused the damage, if
the apartments are as aggressive as some claim.

Tilly disputed that, saying he thinks the previous tenants were not sued because the wife is an attorney and had properly
notified the complex of the damage.

Another local couple who say they have been treated unfairly are Mike and Karen Singleton. She is a teacher at Waco
Montessori School and he is in sales. They lived at Saddlebrook Apartments until a year ago.

Like the Jangs, the Singletons hired an attorney after receiving a letter from the apartments demanding payment for
carpet damage. The amount was relatively low  about $800. But the couple decided to fight it out of principle, said their
attorney, Josh Tetens of Waco.

If there was damage to the carpet, it was the result of the apartment flooding after a toilet hose disconnected, Tetens
said. The couple came home from work one day to find water running out the front of their unit, he said.

The Singeltons immediately contacted management and stayed in another unit for 10 days while their carpet was
cleaned. That involved cutting it in multiple places so that fans could blow underneath to dry it out, Tetens said. That
opened the Berber carpet up to fraying, he said.

Plus, it was not properly reinstalled, Tetens said. For example, the area near a threshold was not glued down. The Singletons told management they wanted the incident noted in their file and were assured they would not be held responsible for damage related to the incident, he said.

When it came time for the Singletons to move out, they scheduled a walk-through, Tetens said. No one showed up at the
scheduled time, however, and the couple ended up moving out without doing the review, he said.

Their case is pending.

Sprigg emphatically denied that the complexes try to avoid doing walk-throughs with tenants. In fact, he said, the
apartments’ staff encourage tenants to participate in walk-throughs so any potential issues can be quickly sorted out.

(c) 2009 Robinson Media Co. LLC – Waco Tribune-Herald