We won't say the Centerpoint Apartments on Frankford Road is one of the sleaziest apartment complexes in Dallas, because last time we checked the business had filed at least 700 lawsuits against its former tenants. The 700 suits don't include regular evictions, but instead are for offenses such as excessive cleaning fees, "damage beyond normal wear and tear" and breaking leases early. (You might be dirtying the place up real bad, but Centerpoint still doesn't want you to leave, as hundreds of former tenants have learned).
So rather than say something like "These people sure sue a lot and are really good it," or "For God's sake don't live there," we will simply point out that the Centerpoint Apartment complex is owned by a family of debt collectors who, after suing tenants, then sue their banks in order to freeze their accounts and force them to pay up. As an example of how adept Centerpoint is at bank garnishment, we point to January 13, when Centerpoint successfully froze the bank account of a 72-year-old grandmother in Sulphur Springs who has never lived there.
"It just shocked me so bad," says Della Cleveland, the grandmother who discovered that the nearly $6,000 she had saved up has been frozen, and still is. "I do have money coming in there for my Social Security and retirement that I'm concerned about, whether they're going to get more."
How is this legal? Because Cleveland's son, who has also never lived at Centerpoint, once co-signed for his daughter, who did live there. When Centerpoint subsequently accused the daughter of damaging her unit excessively and causing other lease violations, it was her father who got a letter demanding $1,728.80. "The apartment requested that we have liability," C.J. Duffey, the father, told us a year and a half ago, when he first got surprised with the bill. "And I see now that's what they were going after, the people that were co-signing for her."
Everything about the bill seemed wrong to Duffey, so he decided to fight it in court. But little did he know that the then-justice of the peace in Denton County's Precinct 6 had never ruled against Centerpoint. Predictably, she sided against Duffey in his case, too. He decided to appeal.
That was in August 2013. Duffey has been trying to appeal Centerpoint's judgment against him ever since. And that's how his mother got into trouble a few weeks ago. As the appeal fees piled up, Cleveland signed a surety bond to help Duffey cover the court costs, unaware that doing so would put her on the hook for the future judgments should Centerpoint win its next court battle.
Last August, Denton County Judge Robert Ramirez ruled in favor of Centerpoint on Duffey's appeal. The following November, Ramirez signed a judgment sticking Duffey with a bill much higher than the original $1,700: "The Court finds that Plaintiff and Defendant have stipulated as to the amount of attorney's fees to be awarded to Plaintiff in the sum of $9,500.00," says the agreed final judgement. "The Court further finds that Plaintiff and Defendant have stipulated as to the amount of actual damages to be awarded to Plaintiff in the sum of $2,031.00." The letter warned that Cleveland was also liable for the bill as a surety bond holder.
Centerpoint's attorney of choice, Israel Suster, points out that Centerpoint has the law on its side. "We don't do anything that's not legal. We can only garnish someone's bank account if we have a judgment against them," Suster says. "This gentleman, he's had his right to his hearing by a third-party decision maker twice, and he's still in the same boat."
While Suster may be correct, Duffey understandably can't comprehend how he and his mother now owe over 11 grand for an apartment they never lived at, over a lawsuit in which a black and white, grainy photograph of a toilet's water tank was presented as evidence.
"I'm not giving up on this. There's no way, there's no way that they can legally let me pay $10,000 in attorney's fees," Duffey says, optimistic for some kind of justice that sounds more and more out of reach.
Send your story tips to the author, Amy Silverstein.