Dallas Hero Decides Against Illegally Evicting Poor a Week Before Thanksgiving

There are heroes all around Dallas. Today, let's highlight the work of Ari Nessel, a developer who has decided against suddenly evicting all the residents of a Lake Highlands condo building he recently purchased.

"Tremendous progress has been made, and it's because of the pioneers like Mr. Nessel," Dallas City Councilman Jerry Allen told the News on Friday after Nessel apologized to residents for the notices they received on their door last Monday saying that they would have to face a judge in eviction court if they didn't move out in three days.

"First of all, I want to say I was out of town when this all happened," Nessel said when reached by telephone Sunday. "I was on a meditation retreat." He added that a local justice of the peace, though he wasn't sure which one, reviewed the eviction notices before they went out.

Residents of the Town Creek Condos say they found out they were about to be kicked out from a note left on their door. According to the Texas Tenants' Union, the note did not accuse residents of breaking their lease or doing anything wrong. The notices were left by an employee of the the building's new property management company, who was accompanied by officers from the Dallas Police Department. The police were there because "there's been a lot of drug dealing and violent crime at the property," Nessel says.

Rena Hanse, one of the property managers, originally defended the eviction to NBC News in the sleek, positive language of corporate advertising: "I wanted to get something out that would hit people very hard but would get the conversation started," Hanse said. "The sooner we start the conversation, we can get them relocated."

Coincidentally, that strategy also is popular among terrorist organizations.

See also: A South Dallas Apartment Owner Evicted All His Tenants, Leaving Many With Nowhere to Go

Instead of participating in that "conversation," the residents showed the notices to the Texas Tenants Union. The advocacy group determined that nope, nothing about the evictions were legal. Under Texas law, a landlord can only evict someone in three days if the tenant is specifically accused of breaking their lease. But if a Texas landlord wants to kick tenants out for a reason that's not their fault, (in this case, to renovate the building), the tenants are supposed to get at least a 30-day warning, according to Texas property law and general human decency.

Reporters descended on the apartment complex last week and interviewed residents about what it's like to find a new place to live in three days in the middle of November. The general consensus is that it sucks.

But on Friday, the negative publicity finally came to an end. Nessel apologized to the residents and promised to help them find new homes. And they can now stay longer than three days, though the renovation is going to happen soon. About 20 residents have made contact with the property management company so far seeking help, Nessel says. "Everything's going to be done mostly on a case-by-case basis."

What will happen to the condo building after it's renovated? It's going to charity. "The intention is to renovate the property and upon renovation donate it to charity," Nessel said. Asked which charity, he said that, "it would most likely be donated to the Pollination Project," the charity that Nessel founded and that he currently sits as a board member on.

If you donate a building you own to a charity you founded, aren't you simply donating to yourself? "I think you're taking a very cynical approach," Nessel said when I pointed out the potential conflict-of-interest.

In addition to the local justice of the peace and the DPD, Nessel says that his development company also has been working with the city of Dallas community prosecutor and the Lake Highlands Public Improvement District throughout his acquisition of the building. In fact, he says the Dallas community prosecutor's office has been involved since August, when he was first in talks to buy the condos.

And so, as the temperatures drop to freezing outside and as the holidays fast approach, the residents, some of whom received Section 8 housing assistance, should remember to be thankful not just for Nessel but for the city of Dallas, which has apparently been complicit in nearly kicking people to the curb in less than a week until others pointed out that you're not allowed to do that.

Send your story tips to the author, Amy Silverstein.

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Amy Martyn
Contact: Amy Martyn

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