But in Duffey's' case, that's exactly what she did.

"That is the letter that is given to me to send out," she said. "I didn't write the demand letter, but I have to send it out."

When a lawsuit does get filed, much of a time there isn't even a trial. "We would settle I would say upwards of 30 percent [of cases] prior to going to court," says Sprigg, the former Centerpoint attorney. Other times people ignore the warning letters they get from Centerpoint. Then they get a court order, and they ignore that too. In those cases, Centerpoint wins an easy default judgment, usually at least $1,000 before attorney's fees.

C.J. Duffey accuses Centerpoint of forging his signature.
Mark Graham
C.J. Duffey accuses Centerpoint of forging his signature.
These images of Kenya Gilstrap's toilet and sink were used as "proof" by Centerpoint that she had damaged her apartment beyond normal wear and tear.
These images of Kenya Gilstrap's toilet and sink were used as "proof" by Centerpoint that she had damaged her apartment beyond normal wear and tear.

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"I think they're very aggressive in pursuing what they think are breaches," says Sharon Campbell, a Dallas-based attorney who has counter-sued Centerpoint on behalf of a client.

Sandy Rollins is the executive director of a nonprofit tenants rights group called the Texas Tenants Union. Whenever someone comes into her office to complain that they've been sued, she says they're usually getting sued by the "Zidell-Suster machine," she says.


The standard apartment lease used by the Texas Apartment Association, the industry's trade group, comes with a lot of fine print. But for most complexes it's not enough. They tack on even more, addendum by addendum. One of the most common is for something called a "rent concession," spun as special discount.

Typically, breaking a contract leaves you only on the hook for the actual damages caused by your change of heart. Contract law typically keeps you from getting charged an extra punitive fine just for breaking the deal.

With rent concessions, landlords have dug themselves a sizable loophole. It works like this: An apartment complex advertises an apartment at a specific price — say, $1,000. But when the tenant goes to sign on the dotted line, an addendum attached to the lease lists the apartment's "market rate" as something higher — say, $1,200.

It's designed to make the tenant think he's getting some sort of deal. But it's actually a way to keep tenants from breaking their leases, and to penalize them if they do. If a tenant beaks the lease early, the "discount" disappears retroactively. So a tenant who paid the advertised $1,000 rent for 11 months — but left a month before his one-year lease was up — would have to pay back the $200 discount for every month he lived there. That's $2,200.

Many of the lawsuits filed by Centerpoint include demands for "concession chargebacks": In Duffey's case, the charges included a $93 concession fee for the last month his daughter lived there. Often it's much more: Nathan Roberts says he wanted to renew but missed his 60-day deadline. Centerpoint kicked him out, he says, and then sued him for $569 in unpaid rent and $780 in repaid discounts. Another tenant, Jim Rhodes, owed $882.

It's a practice tenant-rights advocates say shouldn't stand up in court.

"Rent concession agreements are tricky lawyer tricks," says Robert Doggett, an attorney at the nonprofit Rio Grande Legal Aide. "It's just a total sham where they invent something to try to get around Texas law."

In 2009, Texas state Representative Eddie Rodriguez introduced a bill to ban rent concessions. It failed, which Rodriguez blames on the powerful Texas Apartment Association, which pours hundreds of thousands of dollars into Texas campaign coffers every election cycle. "I think the TAA lobbied really, really hard and talked to enough members to defeat it essentially," Rodriguez says. "Tenants' rights in Texas are not many."

One thing lawmakers did pass that session was a bill preventing co-signers from being held liable for renewal lease agreements they didn't sign. During the debate of the bill on the House floor, a woman named Felicitas Cadena was called as a witness. She told a story about co-signing for a baby sitter in 2005. The apartment complex: Centerpoint.

Cadena thought it was a one-time deal, until Centerpoint filed a lawsuit against her in 2007. It turned out her signature had automatically rolled over to the renewal leases. And the baby sitter was accused of damaging the apartment. "The judge did not question anything, because I had signed this form," Cadenas says, holding an old lease. Cadena owed Centerpoint $3,489 in damages, an additional $3,850 in attorney's fees and an 18 percent post-judgment interest rate, totaling $7,356.

"I will forever remember all my crying on my way home, a feeling of hopelessness," Cadenas said in her testimony.

Concessions aren't the only addendum Centerpoint tenants sign. There's a slew of them: One says the company is not responsible for giving tenants any "written or verbal reminder" about their 60-day notice, even though Suster, the Centerpoint attorney, says 60-day-notice reminders are an industry standard. And if the tenant refuses to sign off on an addendum, he's still on the hook, because another addendum declares that "resident agrees to all addendums and policies provided by Centerpoint whether signed or not."

Should they run afoul of all these agreements, yet another addendum sets the tenants' legal course. "All parties, landlord and resident, agree to mutually waive all rights to a jury trial if litigation is filed." That means almost every Centerpoint case that ends up in court winds up in the hands of the same jurist: Denton County Justice of Peace Patty Larson.

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37 comments
Anoynm.
Anoynm.

I used to live in Centerpoint for almost a year. It was my first time renting on the States, andi was played by them.They evicted me a month after i renew in January 2013( wise). 

Right now i cant even rent a place without asking me about this one. Supposely, i owe 6,000.00 dollars for an apartment that it didnt even had a bed ( by that time i was really poor) .

All i received was threats and disrespect :Kendra and her secretary are a Dream Team . 

There was not even a single month that i didn't owe late fees, even when i paid on time.

Now i am bound to live in a hotel because i cant rent anywhere.

Adolf
Adolf

Kikes, what do you expect?

super40chic
super40chic

The city must be getting a kickback from this company this is ludicrous. Any real judge would ask why a complex in the hood has sued over 700 people!?!? Really

Texas really needs more tenant and employee rights badly. It's sad. I hope karma comes there way

lemonaioli
lemonaioli

So glad Lincoln Property isn't like this. Yes, for many years they had the market rate/concession thing going but if you stayed for the duration of the lease, it wasn't a problem. I lived in the Village for longer than I care to admit but they never did me wrong. I got more back from my deposit than I actually thought I would. Yes, reading the lease is important so you know what you're responsible for but they're not going to change it for you so after year one, I initialed it without going over it with a fine toothed comb.

carsosi
carsosi

I lived here and can tell you from first-hand experience that this is VERY true.  They will attempt to collect even from items you put on your walk-though form.  Stay away from this place.  Go live at a week-to-week hotel if you have to.  Avoid this place at all costs (literally)!

jglaser1000
jglaser1000

How is this Apartment Complex in Dallas, on Frankford, suing in Denton County?  There is something fishy going on. The cases should be filed in their jurisdiction, Dallas.  This Judge needs to be looked into Big Time.  Also,does the Denton Courts not address this at the time of filing?  -I very disappointed in the Denton Courts also. 

fir3walker
fir3walker

Shouldn't the Texas Attorney General look into this company?

I mean, this has been going on for too long.

I think we need to call for an audit of Centerpoint... I bet ya they wont have to look very deep to find something really nasty there....

DFWNORML
DFWNORML

Someone should simply burn the place down and hang the management - and then roll them up and smoke them.

rlisch6
rlisch6

Did any of these folks appeal to the County Court like you can with an eviction in JP Court?  When I was evicted, I appealed and it went to the County judge and was a brand new trial.   I won my appeal.   If the justice of the peace is so bad, wouldn't at least someone get a win at the County Court?

rlisch6
rlisch6

Ok, am I missing something?  The story talks about how huge the complex is and says there have been 700 lawsuits filed since 1996.  That works out to roughly 41 suits a year.   Are any of these evictions?   And it says the judge has ruled on 55 trials.  If she was elected in 2006, that puts it at just under 8 trials a year.   Let's say there are 500 units in the complex.  That works out to be 1.6 percent of the their tenants!   So 98.4% of the tenants are NOT sued?

And isn't it strange that gosh, if it's not the lawyers (who apparently know what they are doing), it must be the judge's fault because, gosh, tenants NEVER break their lease.

I'm sorry, but this sounds like a lot of sour grapes from people who lost.  Wilonski leaves and the Observer is left to this?  What's next: "The Outrage of Sunrise:  How the Western United States are Being Screwed by the Earth's Rotation."   

s2pid80it
s2pid80it

Well, apparently, the lesson here is if you are going to rent in Dallas, be smart, be educated, and be rich.

whocareswhatithink
whocareswhatithink

Great job bringing this to light...slimy law practice, slimy judge, slimy apartment complex.

jekku60
jekku60

Wow. With all of the people who rent in Dallas and the surrounding cities, this should be a huge wake up call to do one's homework and READ THE FINE PRINT.  While the clientele at the complex doesn't sound like it's the best, the management is very obviously using its tenants in this little 'criminal' sideline business to make themselves more money. Add an equally slimey lawyer and a judge who always rules in favor of the complex, and you have the very reason why our justice system is a mess. The fact that they have continued to appeal a measly $1,500 claim for FIVE YEARS(!!!) shows you all you need to know about them. They're crooks! As a tenant myself, I  always worry about what I might do--even unknowingly--that may cause legal repercussions for myself, so I try to document and photograph everything. It's sad to know that in Texas, the tenant does not have the legal system watching our backs, yet we literally throw away our hard earned money each month when we rent. Something is definitely NOT right.

TXsharon
TXsharon

Great job digging in on this! The laws need to change but that's not likely to happen anytime soon in Texas where corporations and businesses are favored about people always. 

jglaser1000
jglaser1000

@super40chic 

I agree with you.  Hope these people will get on Yelp.com, RipOffReport.com and other ratings systems to get the word out!

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@jglaser1000 that address is Denton County, and the property pays taxes to Denton county

sleepyhead420
sleepyhead420

@fir3walker oh, you told a funny there. at least about the attorney general looking for wrongdoing.

fir3walker
fir3walker

@rlisch6 I think the best solution is to avoid Centerpoint and call for an investigation of Patty Larson to see if she's getting paid by Centerpoint.

jglaser1000
jglaser1000

@rlisch6 

You are so far off base, why did you bother commenting?  You assumed full occupancy along with the number of units that you made up. There's never full occupancy at this place. You also assume a yearly turnover to come up with your ratio. What about the tenants that have been there 5 or 8 years.  People that need cheap rent often don't pick up and move every year, it is just not feasible.  AND, you assume that this judge started seeing the cases from the beginning of her 2006 tenure.  Why would a Denton Court be involved in a Dallas Case? Do you think this Apartment Complex has been going up to Denton this whole time thinking that no one would get suspicious on why the cases are not being tried in Dallas where they are supposed to be?  -Seems like you are also a friend of these people!

fir3walker
fir3walker

@rlisch6 I agree! we need to get the word out that Centerpoint engages in these types of practices.

Too many sour grapes!

Centerpoint's motto:

"You can check out any time you like.  (if you have $3,568 handy)"

or, 

"CENTERPOINT - IT'S JUST CHEAPER IF YOU STAY... OK?"

MissMacy
MissMacy

@rlisch6 Not every case ends up in court. Most former residents pay up in order to avoid it.

amy.silverstein
amy.silverstein

And most of the lawsuits filed don't go to trial. There's only a trial if the person who is being sued files an answer and shows up to court. 

joe.tone
joe.tone moderator

@rlisch6 As it says in the story, that number of lawsuits does not include evictions.

jglaser1000
jglaser1000

@s2pid80it 

Yes, be educated enough not to let them take you to court somewhere else than the county you are in, because they just might have a Judge in their Pocket!


rlisch6
rlisch6

@whocareswhatithink  Unless the judge is getting something under the table, I'm not sure following the law as written is slimy.  At least Ms. Cadenas put her money where her mouth was and got the law changed.

rlisch6
rlisch6

@TXsharon Kudos to Ms. Cadenas for getting the law changed!  She didn't whine, she pushed for change and got it.    THAT

jglaser1000
jglaser1000

@fir3walker @rlisch6 

My exact thoughts!  What does Denton Court have to do with a Dallas Property? How did the Apartment complex even get the Denton courts to take a Dallas Court Claim?  -This is extremely suspicious!

NightSand
NightSand

@rlisch6 @whocareswhatithink I think if you read the story, Judge Larson treated the defendant like a child and didn't even acknowledge that the signature was obviously forged.   

 
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