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Texas

Data Shows Dallas County Tenants Who Appeal an Eviction Do Better

During the year that Dallas County’s evictions hit a five-year high, about 80% of the time tenants filed appeals either closed, mitigated, or found in favor of the tenants, causing legal aid experts to question the proper legal procedure within the framework of justice. world courts.

According to a study by the Child Poverty Action Lab, on average Dallas County Justices of the Peace rule in favor of homeowners about 72% of the time. However, in the case of an appeal, the results are much more varied, since tenants have more time to prepare a defense or reach a settlement, and landlords must provide evidence of the legality of the eviction.

The appeals data shows how unbalanced the scales of justice can be for low-income tenants in times of rent spikes and high inflation, says Mark Melton of the Dallas Eviction Rights Advocacy Center.

“On average, in the three busiest courts in Dallas County, we spend less than four minutes gathering facts in eviction cases. And most of the time we are wrong,” Melton said. “I can’t imagine anyone looking at this data and coming to the conclusion that this is constitutionally sufficient due process.”

A closer look at the data reveals that in about 51% of cases, eviction claims are denied, mitigated, or resolved without judgment on appeal, and in 21% of cases, the homeowner’s case is not taken to court. Appellate judges rule in favor of tenants 8% of the time and in favor of landlords 20% of the time.

Despite more favorable results for Dallas County tenants who have filed an appeal, some tenants have been left homeless and have little opportunity to return, despite the judge’s ruling. Once the landlord wins the eviction lawsuit, the magistrate returns the apartment to the landlord.

If a tenant files an appeal, returning to their home can sometimes require additional legal hurdles that tenants cannot afford, forcing them to move on regardless of whether their appeal wins.

“It is very serious. My life depends on it,” said Lauren McNeil, who was 9 months pregnant when she was evicted in March but won her appeal in May. “From a legal point of view, there is no reason why I should not be allowed into my apartment. I can’t figure out how we’re going to do it.”

Texas law requires landlords to give written notice three days prior to filing an eviction application using certain delivery methods.

When McNeal was evicted, the City of Dallas also required landlords to give 21 days’ notice of intent to vacate, in addition to state law.

McNeil’s landlord failed to comply with those requirements before evicting her, the appellate judge ruled. Having won the appeal, she should have been legally able to return to her apartment. However, apartment managers at Mandalay Palms in Dallas refused to give her the keys to the apartment, McNeil said.

According to McNeil, Magistrate Thomas Jones also denied her a re-entry order that would oblige the landlord to return ownership of the house to her.

Neither McNeil’s landlord nor Judge Jones responded to Dallas Morning News“Repeated requests for comments.

Instead, McNeil and her son Elijah find themselves homeless, living in a shelter in Fort Worth and trying to figure out how to sue to get her back home.

“I’m fighting for something, and when you’re fighting for something, it’s like you’re putting everything into something because you believe something positive is going to come out of it,” McNeil said.

Melton said the structure of the lower court system gives each judge autonomy to determine how much evidence landlords need to prove they followed the law when evicting tenants.

Justices of the peace have an obligation to be impartial and evaluate the evidence they present, says former Dallas County Justice Al Sercone, who did not run for re-election.

“If the tenant does not question anything already presented to the court in the landlord’s lawsuit, it would be inappropriate for the court to act as the tenant’s advocate and deliberately ask questions to try to win the landlord’s lawsuit,” Cercone said in the lawsuit. statement Dallas Morning News. “The court does not help either side of the civil suit. A judge who does this is not impartial and should not be a judge.”

However, the district court judge who hears eviction cases after an appeal asks for evidence that the landlords should have evicted. Justices of the peace, which deal with small claims and eviction claims, have no court clerks, no court formalities, and rules of evidence and procedure do not apply. Justices of the peace are also not required to be lawyers.

“In JP court, sometimes it’s like the wild, wild West,” said K’Lisha Routledge, a Northwest Texas legal aid lawyer. “The district court judges know they are registered. And they will be very considerate and give people a fair chance to present their defence, whether they are represented by a lawyer or not.”

In another case this summer, Candice Hunt, 35, won an eviction appeal, but her case exposed another hurdle tenants face when trying to appeal.

She was nearly denied an appeal due to a state law requiring rent to be paid into a court register before a higher judge hears her case. A Dallas County judge ruled in his appeal that part of the Texas property code is unconstitutional, upholding the idea that a person’s bank account should not deny them access to the courts.

“The price of life has gone up. It was hard enough,” Hunt said in her address. “Two of my four children lived with their father. They had to return to me, which meant additional costs. Trying to feed everyone, clothe everyone and pay extra bills… I fell behind.”

Dallas residential developer Nathaniel Barrett says while there may be bad actors in the system, eviction is a last resort for landlords like him because it’s unlikely they’ll get paid. When he has to evict someone, Barrett says he follows the law and city ordinances, even though it’s “a big problem.”

“My job is to keep my ducks in order and have all my documents in order,” he said. “But there are many places along the way where you can make administrative mistakes. Then the process starts again. And that upsets the landlord, because either way, the end result is the same. They don’t pay rent.”

Having legal representation for tenants in eviction hearings also greatly affects their ability to win the case. According to a recent study by the Child Poverty Action Lab, Melton said that if tenant lawyers had been present at eviction hearings, they would have won about 90% of the time.

Barbara Blacknall, 55, won an eviction appeal in September against her landlord in Cedar Hill, who filed multiple eviction petitions against her while receiving compensation for her rent.

“He played games with the system, going to different eviction courts, from one JP to another,” Blacknall said. “He took me to court saying I didn’t pay rent. But he not only took the rent allowance, but also the money that I paid him.”

Now she is fighting to have her eviction papers removed so she can find another home.

“I just applied and found a brand new home,” Blacknall said. “But the only thing that held me back was the submission of documents. And it hurt me. So we’re working with lenders to try and get rid of that. That’s rough”.

Attorney Routledge reiterates the importance of filing an eviction appeal because in most cases, tenants are not given enough time to present their defense.

“Depending on the JP judge and how they feel that day, tenants can have different outcomes,” Rutledge said. “There are tenants that I have seen in court who are putting forward arguments, very strong arguments, which should lead to the termination of their cases. Maybe the judge doesn’t like the way they are dressed, or doesn’t like the way they present it. Or maybe they just don’t think the law itself is legal and they’re going to evict this tenant.”

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