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Shameful tactics

Apartment managers use cruel and unusual punishment against renters struggling to get by

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Villa de Cancun Shaprstown apartment complex
A Houston apartment complex illegally removed doors from units behind on rent. Courtesy of Google Maps

A Houston apartment complex is taking heat for leaving its tenants in the cold after removing doors from units behind on rent, a cruel and flagrantly illegal tactic as December evening temperatures continue to dip into the thirties.

Jacqueline Greene, a 27-year-old mother of three kids under 10, tells the Chronicle that she returned from work on Dec. 2 to find the door of her $593-a-month apartment at the Villa de Cancun in Sharpstown completely gone. The management office told her she needed to pay $600 in unpaid rent before maintenance would put the door back on its hinges.

Green and her children huddled in the  apartment behind a single blanket used as a makeshift front door.

Though currently employed as a temp worker with city, Green recently ended a stretch of unemployment that left her unable to shell out the ransom. For the next three nights, she and her children huddled behind a single blanket they propped up in the front entrance. Maintenance eventually returned the door, although it no longer locks properly.

"As a mother, your job is to protect your kids. When something like this happens, it makes that impossible," she says. "You're worried about someone coming into your home in the middle of the night."

Houston Apartment Association — a trade group that represents 90 percent of the area's rental communities — was the first to receive complaints about the Villa de Cancun's bizarre methods through its renters hotline and online complaint network. Section 92.0081 of the state property code specifically bars landlords from removing door and windows for any reason other than repairs.

"It was such an unusual report that we contacted the complex immediately," HAA community engagement director community engagement Aimee Arrington tells CultureMap. "The property managers just told us that they weren't removing doors . . . Since the Villa de Cancun isn't an HAA member, we have much less leverage than we normally would."

While property managers didn't return CultureMap's request for comment, representatives with the City of Houston report that Villa de Cancun owners Woodfair Properties currently are negotiating with city lawyers.

Though officials wouldn't discuss the lawsuit, Harris County court records show that Woodfair claims the city unfairly fined the Villa de Cancun approximately $66,000 for unpaid building permits. In another suit, the Greater Sharpstown Management District claims the property group owes it $19,000 in unpaid back taxes.

Woodlfair, meanwhile, better watch its front doors.

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