News 8 Investigates

DALLAS – The city attorney’s office is suing one of the most notorious landlords in the city, but there’s another company you’ve never heard of that owns more run-down houses than anyone else.

In November, the city sued Topletz Investments, demanding that they bring 190 of their rental homes up to code. But HMK Ltd., run by Hanna Khraish and his son, Khraish H. Khraish, owns more than 400.

Dallas County tax records show that many are worth between $10,000 and $20,000 and most are categorized by appraisers as "unsound,” "very poor," and “poor.”

Many of them are occupied by people disgusted by their surroundings, but too poor to leave.

Jose Baez said he had one of the worst experiences of his life inside the Ann Avenue Apartments, an HMK property in the 900 block of Ann Avenue, near Fair Park.

According to a lawsuit he’s filed, in June 2012, he was awakened in the middle of the night by a sharp bite on his toe. He looked down to see a rat scurrying off toward his kitchen and into a hole in the wall, the lawsuit says. (Read HMK's response to the lawsuit here.)

Across town, in west Dallas, another tenant shows News 8 holes in the floors, leaks in the ceiling, mold and rot, and cracks in the walls. He didn’t want his name used for fear of retaliation.

“It leaks a lot in two rooms, and here in the kitchen,” he said. “That's why it's torn up, the ceiling here.”

Another tenant shows us holes in the floors. He, too, didn’t want his name used for fear of retaliation. He said his $500 per month rent house is falling apart, and if it needs repairs, he usually makes them himself.

“I've told them and told them, again and again, and they don't come out here,” he said.

The Khraish’s properties are concentrated in west and South Dallas. On some streets, they own nearly the whole block.

From the street, most are covered in a coat of bright pastel paint. But a closer look reveals why some current and former tenants call HMK properties “decaying” and “deplorable.”

“We had central air and heat and everything, but if it ever went out, they would never repair it,” said Herman Hillary, who lived in an HMK home for four years. “They'd just send you a notice that they weren't going to repair it.”

But the HMK lease states tenants must “provide their own air conditioning and heat.”

Attorney Michael Hindman says the lease also forces tenants have to make most of their own repairs, which violates the Texas Property Code.

“It’s incredulous that this lease is being used by Dallas' largest landlord for years and years and years and hundreds and hundreds of properties,” said Michael Hindman, attorney for Jose Baez.

Many of those properties have received hundreds of notices of violations from the City of Dallas, which Hindman says amount to little more than a nuisance.

“There's a very minimal fine, if it ever comes to pass, and it almost never would, because it goes through the municipal courts, just like a traffic ticket would,” Hindman said.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings knows HMK well.

His High Impact Landlord Initiative is targeting eight problem property owners hoping to broker a resolution. He met with the Khraish family last July.

“[We] asked them to participate, to sign a pledge that they would register their houses, allow us inside the homes, and they would work in a partnership with us to find ideas where we as a city could help them improve,” Rawlings told News 8 in an interview.

Did they sign that pledge?

“They did not,” the mayor said.

Mr. Khraish Khraish finally responded by email late last week, but has yet to answer our questions about his properties, or to answer critics who say his houses are some of the worst in the city.

In court pleadings, his attorney calls the rat bite lawsuit frivolous (paragraph 7).

For the past several years, HMK has taken the Dallas County Appraisal District to court, claiming their properties are often worth thousands of dollars less than their appraisal.

On that point, the tenants might agree.