"I think that's a terrible addendum," says Rodriguez, the state rep. "To remove a jury in that situation, what you're really doing is you're removing the peers, you don't want any peers there to hear that case."

Terrible for the tenant, maybe. But for Centerpoint, it always seems to work out.


C.J. Duffey's trial date was a stifling day in late August, at Larson's small courthouse in Carrollton. The Suster Law Group attorney on the case was Kelly Hankey, who waited outside the courtroom with Kendra Heintzelman, the Centerpoint property supervisor. Bonnie Henley, Duffey's ex-wife, paced the lobby. Her daughter, Gilstrap, arrived in a pink dress with bleached blonde streaks in her hair. They didn't bring an attorney. That would be Duffey's job. He ran in wearing a buttoned shirt, a few minutes late.

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.

Larson, who's 65 with closely cropped white hair, seemed helpful at first. "A lot of special rules apply to a justice court case, I want to make sure you understand," she told Duffey.

Speaking slowly, she instructed him on how to conduct a cross-examination of Heintzelman: Ask questions that she can answer, stick to what's in the contract, don't let feelings get involved. "I know that there is a lot of frustration," she assured him. "What we're here for is specific about a contract."

His voice was level as he argued with Heintzelman about whether she called him ahead of time to warn of the charges he supposedly owed: She said she called, Duffey said she didn't. Duffey asked the judge if there was a way to subpoena phone records. (No, Larson said.)

Duffey hesitated between questions, appearing as if he was trying to concentrate on what he should ask next. But he looked, and sounded, calm, even if Larson indicated otherwise. "You're doing very well, stay calm," she said. "You're also a very well-controlled man, and I know you're frustrated but I know you will do this well."

"I knew then I was in a game," Duffey said after the trial. The judge, he felt, "was trying to make herself look justified by saying I was erratic. But I never got, my tone of voice really never changed."

In an interview later, Larson insists she treats each case equally, but records show that while her predecessors at least occasionally found cause to rule against Centerpoint, in 55 trials Larson has yet to side with a tenant.

"I'm not ruling in favor of them, I'm taking the facts and giving them judgment that they have proved up by law," she says. "Whether I like the law or not, I took an oath of office to follow it, and I'm going to follow it as carefully as I possibly can, that's who I am."

Asked to name a trial where Centerpoint accused anyone damaging an apartment and didn't get a judgment, she tells a story about a case in which Centerpoint won but decided to give the money back. "It was legal and everything was legal but the man didn't feel it was right."

Larson's is an elected position, although it's not an especially competitive one. Campaign records show that she received only one donation during the most recent campaign cycle, in 2010 — a $1,000 check from the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas PAC. "We don't have a whole lot of faith of getting justice in the justice of the peace court," says Sandy Rollins, from the Texas Tenants Union.

That's not the case everywhere. The Zidells also own a pair of apartment complexes in Waco, called Saddle Brook and Saddle Brook West. Sung Jang and his wife, Sunmi, rented a Saddle Brook West unit in 2007, after he accepted a professor job at Baylor University. When they saw the unit for the first time, they noticed that the carpet was stained, according to testimonies the Jangs and their friends would later give in court.

A year later, the Jangs were ready to move out. They said that they asked the leasing office about doing a walk-through, but multiple times the staffers told them not to worry about it. Then, after moving out, the Jangs got a letter from Saddle Brook West: They owed $1,452.92. It turned out that the leasing office had found some damages to the apartment during the walk-through.

The Jangs headed to Justice court in Waco — and won. With Sprigg on the case at the time, Saddle Brook West appealed and got a jury trial, even though the Zidells require tenants to waive their rights to juries. But it didn't help: The Jangs won that too. Saddle Brook West appealed again, this time to the Waco 10th Court of Appeals, which also sided with the Jangs. And in August of this year, more than five years since the Jangs lived at Saddle Brook West, the apartment complex appealed the case to the Texas Supreme Court. The appeal is now pending.


Duffey did his best in court, carefully laying out his case for the judge. His daughter, Gilstrap, signed a six-month lease, she says, and turned in a 60-day move-out notice to the leasing office. Then she got a renewal notice in the mail. "I said I'm not doing a renewal, I already sent my 60-day," Gilstrap recalls.

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34 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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