Yesterday, in an Oak Cliff Justice of the Peace courtroom, two tenants celebrated a victory in their quest for decent living conditions. Judge Juan Jasso ruled in favor of Ramona Robles and Rigoberto Gutierrez, who, after filing complaints with the city about unbearable temperatures at their Lancaster Avenue apartment building, found eviction notices on their doors.
"If a complaint is made against the city, then anything that happens after that is considered retaliation," Jasso ruled. "I'm entering judgment for the defendant."
Both Robles and Gutierrez told the court they had each attempted to pay their $500 rent after complaining about the temperatures but were rebuffed by management, who then used the non-payment as grounds order to evict them.
"I tried to pay rent on June 30 and again in July," Robles told Unfair Park in an interview outside the courtroom. "They wouldn't take it." By that time, she said, she'd already complained to the city twice about the faulty air conditioning, and an inspector had clocked the temperature in her one-bedroom apartment at 95 degrees.
"There was no air for three weeks," Robles said. "Everyone was complaining, saying they'd come home from work and couldn't sleep because it was so hot."
She reached out to attorney and activist Domingo Garcia, who recommended she call activist Carlos Quintanilla and his group Accion America. Quintanilla had been working with tenants of a Pleasant Grove complex to demand air conditioning, though a judge recently ruled in favor of the property owners.
Quintanilla said the tenants and their activist supporters lost that fight because they didn't keep meticulous records of conditions and complaints. "In this case we have photos, records of the complaints to the city and records of the retaliation," he said outside Jasso's courtroom. "We're gonna sue to make sure they fix the apartments."
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Even after filing complaints and having the eviction notices reversed in court on Thursday, Robles, Gutierrez and other tenants of the building, Town Lake Apartments on Lancaster Avenue, say they still lack functioning air conditioning and suffer from constant cockroach infestations.
"I moved in two weeks ago. and I still haven't unpacked my pans because the cabinets are full of roaches," Paula Martinez said. "They fall down on you from the ceilings."
A Town Lake manager listed in case documents as Mickee Trevin hurried out of court with another woman and refused to answer questions from Unfair Park.
"Don't be afraid," Quintanilla told a small group of tenants outside. "You can fight and win. This sends a message to all apartment complexes that they can't have people living in squalor."