Friday, November 27, 2015

City Of Dallas Files Suit In Renewed Effort To Put Notorious Slumlord Out Of Business; Similar Suit Filed Twenty-One Years Earlier Fell Flat; Ongoing Battle Dates Back Over Thirty Years

In Dallas, Texas, The Dallas Morning News reports:
  • “In the City of Dallas, the name ‘Topletz’ is synonymous with dilapidated and often crime-ridden, single-family rental property located primarily in the southern area of Dallas.”

    So begins a lawsuit filed [] by Dallas city attorneys trying once and for all to chase Dennis Topletz and his relatives out of the business of low-income rentals in southern Dallas.

    The lawsuit, filled with exhibits cataloging drug busts and code violations at Topletz-owned properties, echoes countless newspaper, TV and magazine reports over two decades documenting the hundreds of citations the family has received from City Hall.

    Despite efforts to crack down on their business practices, the family has continued to operate a substandard business and paid pennies on the dollar in fines, city officials argue.

    And Dallas City Hall says that must end: The lawsuit asks for the court to appoint a receiver to “take charge and possession” of the 190 properties owned by Dennis Topletz, family members or one of his myriad subsidiaries. That receiver would be tasked with repairing properties, collecting rents and evicting residents who refuse to pay their rents — all the duties normally associated with a landlord. The receiver would only be prohibited from actually selling the properties, including a handful of houses cited as havens for drug sales.

    Dennis runs the family business started by his late father Harold and uncle Jack, who died in 2013.

    The city says it’s asking for a receiver due to “the Topletz Defendants’ ongoing and repeated mismanagement of the Topletz Properties through placement of tenants in substandard conditions; failure to provide the necessary repairs and maintenance of the Topletz Properties while collecting rents from tenants, the mistreatment of tenants in contravention of tenants’ rights provided by state law; and the substantial danger of injury or adverse health impact to the Topletz’ tenants and adverse effects to neighboring properties.”
    When reached at his office on Inwood Road Wednesday afternoon, Dennis Topletz said he had not yet seen the just-filed suit and suggested calling back for comment sometime next week, after he and his lawyers had reviewed its contents. But he didn’t seem overly concerned when informed of the city’s request for a receiver to seize control of the rent houses.

    The city has “deep pockets,” says Topletz, who’s tussled with city attorneys for decades. “I don’t see where it would go, other than the lawyers need something to do. I am really surprised they would spend the effort to do it. We’ll have to address it when they come forward. It’s one more thing to do.”

    The family has long escaped punishment and defended its actions. Jack Topletz, who died in 2013 at the age of 100, told D in 1987 that “we’re in the investment business, not the rental business.”

    Twelve years later, in a cover story headlined “How the Slumlord Beats the City Every Time,” the Dallas Observer chronicled how the Topletzes beat back the city’s crackdown efforts — by fighting every ticket and appealing every verdict, sometimes to the Texas Supreme Court, and waiting out a city attorney’s office trying to put out bigger fires than drug houses in South Dallas.

    Twenty-one years ago, the city filed a massive lawsuit against the Topletzes and other relatives that isn’t much different from the one taken to the courthouse today. It too sought an injunction stopping the Topletzes from renting out their properties; it too tried to force them to repair their rotten homes. But the case never went anywhere, and by 1997 it was tossed by a judge for “want of prosecution.” Tom Korosec, then writing for the Observer, noted that “the lawsuit hardly got off to a fast start, and as the file shows, the city did almost nothing to push it along.”

    [Dallas Mayor Mike] Rawlings says this time, things will be different.

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