As a Dallas landlord threatens to evict 305 tenants in apartments and homes after the city tightened regulations on rental quality and frequency and attentiveness to repairs, the tenant who helped start the confrontation is still glad she did.
"It's been a living hell,” said Joann Pena seated on the front step of her baby blue two-bedroom rental home on Nomas Street in West Dallas. "And the reason it's been a living hell is because I never had the chance to stand up to say how I feel to them."
“Them” is HMK Ltd, and owner Kraish H. Kraish, the company News 8 identified as the owner of more than 400 Dallas rental homes and apartments, many of them in what the City considers substandard condition.
"The walls, they're literally close to falling down,” Pena said of the home she and her husband have rented for the last six years.
Last month she and her husband sued HMK for what they call "unspeakably squalid conditions,
repairs "frivolously ignored or denied" and a business model to "collect rents from vulnerable tenants and exploit them.”
"Your choice has been, always, to live under oppressive conditions by somebody who's breaking the law and getting away with it,” said Pena’s attorney Michael Hindman. “And that day's come to an end.”
But last week, when the city tightened regulations, HMK responded by announcing it would just shut down the properties instead: evict Joanna and 304 other families, and demolish the homes, rather than abide by the city's demand for repairs.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings responded in a written statement by saying “we’re proud that the City is requiring landlords to provide living conditions that meet basic legal standards of decency. Our office will do everything we can to ensure that HMK tenants are not put out on the streets.”
Joanna, in a house where she says she and her husband had to supply their own air conditioners. says she has not received an official eviction notice. But she's making other plans just in case.
And asking other tenants, in her same situation, to stand up and be counted too.
"People need to come forward. They need to stand up,” said Hindman. "Follow Joana and Sergio's lead. Nothing changes unless someone stands up.
“And the fact that Joanna stood up basically moved this whole situation in a direction that the city's been wanting it to go for many, many years."
"I'm trying to get the community to see where the landlord is wrong,” Pena said. “And if they don't realize it by now I'm sorry to say it but you're going to go through some living hell with them just like I did.”
News 8 attempted again Wednesday to reach HMK for comment. But our calls were not returned. However HMK, in its own written statements, has said it is offering to help tenants find other living arrangements.