TRLA Attorneys Defend Complaint Against El Paso Landlord

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For Immediate Release
Feb. 3, 2017

EL PASO, TEXAS — City officials announced Thursday that tenants of a Union Plaza-area apartment complex are being relocated by the property owner following a code compliance complaint filed by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid (TRLA).  Tenants of the complex, located at 219 W. Overland, sought TRLA’s representation in early November because of its unhealthy and unsafe living conditions. On behalf of its clients, TRLA made repeated requests to the complex’s owner, Don Luciano, for repairs but without success. Through an Open Records request, TRLA also discovered that the city’s code enforcement office started an investigation into the property in 2012 because of complaints of bedbugs. However, officials closed the case soon afterward without taking action. In December, TRLA filed a complaint on behalf of its clients with the Justice Court and won.  Luciano was given 30 days to bring the property into compliance. In its press release yesterday, the city announced that Luciano, rather than bring the building up to code, informed officials that he had told the tenants to vacate the building. The following statements were made by residents and TRLA attorneys representing him and other tenants.

“Mr. Luciano was great at collecting our rent every single month and ignoring our requests,” said tenant and TRLA client Julia Castillo. “We know where his heart is. It is a shame that El Paso is losing affordable housing.  Some of us don’t have a lot of choices. We are elderly and on fixed incomes. But just because we can’t afford a higher rent does not mean we should expose our lives.”

“My wife and moved into this building over 13 years ago,” said Salvador Ortiz, 85. “We loved the location and it was well maintained. Someone cleaned the bathrooms every day and when we complained about problems, the owner used to make the repairs quickly and well.  All of that changed when the new owner bought the building.”

“Our clients came to us because of the deplorable conditions at Mr. Luciano’s apartment complex –bedbugs, serious water leaks, no running water in some apartments, no heat in others,”  said TRLA attorney Cassandra McRae.  “Over 15 tenants share two showers and two toilets, and they aren’t cleaned by the landlord. It is unhealthy place to live. When Mr. Luciano refused to make repairs despite our repeated requests, we filed a lawsuit in Justice Court and won.  Mr. Luciano was ordered to make repairs but he has still refused. It’s unfortunate that he’s willing to put people out of their homes. Some of our clients have lived there for years.”

“We question why the city failed to pursue the investigation that it opened up in 2012,” said TRLA attorney Veronica Carbajal. “The owner should never have been allowed to let this property deteriorate so badly. It is obvious that the city needs to do more to prevent such conditions from happening.  Our clients were not asking for hardwood floors and granite countertops. They were asking to not have to choose between freezing to death and being poisoned from carbon monoxide.”

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For more information, contact: Nancy Nusser, communications director, 512 374 2764 (o); 410 934 9588 (m); nnusser@trla.org