MIDLOTHIAN — Since complaining to their landlord and the state of Texas about the sewage smell and other problems with their residence at Village South Mobile Home Park in Midlothian, Bryan and Chelsey Eastman have had their rent raised, their water cut off this week and, on Thursday, received an eviction notice.
As of Thursday night, their water still was not turned on – even after landlord Delbert Justus, a deacon with First Baptist Church of Midlothian and treasurer at Manna House, acknowledged he’d been served with a temporary restraining order obtained by Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas from Ellis County Court at Law No. 1, Judge Jim Chapman presiding.
Asked by the Daily Light if he would consider turning the water on until the court hearing in light of the record-setting temperatures and the fact there are very young children in the residence, Justus said he didn’t want to and the family could just “go somewhere,” saying they’d been “nothing but trouble.”
Attorneys David Loving and Janet Marusak characterized the actions taken against the Eastman family as “retaliation” and indicated they’re looking forward to presenting their evidence in a court hearing set for Aug. 17.
“I feel like this is a clear case of retaliation where the owner/landlord decided to teach her (Chelsey) a lesson for calling the state,” Loving said.
“This is a clear violation of the law,” he said of what the Eastman family had experienced.
As filed Wednesday with the Ellis County Clerk’s Office, the order, which was effective immediately, reads: “Defendants, Debbie Emory and Delbert Justus, are commanded to obey the order of this court and to immediately desist and refrain from (1) terminating or in any manner affecting the service of water, electricity, gas at 164 Village South MHP, Midlothian … (and) (2) failing and refusing to restore water utilities to plaintiffs … .”
Justus and his daughter, Emory, are identified in documents as owners of the trailer where the Eastmans have resided since January.
A court hearing has been set for Aug. 17 in the case.
Chelsey and Bryan said they are looking for another place to live and remain hopeful they can find something. The economic downturn affected their finances, which put them into Village South, where they said they’ve found it hard to get back on their feet because the lack of maintenance on the two trailers where they’ve lived has led to very high utility bills: gas, electric and water.
The first trailer hit them hard on gas and electric, while the second trailer, where they’ve lived since January, has hit them on gas and water as a result of water leaks and issues with the hot water heater.
They’re current on their $500/month rent (Justus had served them notice he was increasing it to $600 next month before then sending an eviction notice), but said they still have about a $65 balance stemming from a $292 water bill in May attributed to the hot water heater. This was after they had to pay off a $114 water bill in February caused by a different leak that had to be fixed.
The park had agreed to let them pay their last balance out, but then suddenly cut the water off this week, Chelsey said, with Justus now demanding a $25 cash fee on top of the arrears before turning the water back on.
With the water remaining cut off Thursday, Chelsey said she had notified the attorneys of the situation.
Chelsey said she had identified other issues with the trailer to Justus, including a pervasive smell of sewage in some of the rooms, along with rotted spots around some of the windows and doors to the exterior that don’t properly close, among other concerns.
It was when he didn’t address the sewage smell that she contacted the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which visited the park July 22.
Chelsey said the investigator told her she also smelled the sewage aroma and was requesting that Justus test the system.
The disposition of the TCEQ investigation was not available as of press time; however, Loving told the Daily Light that the investigator would testify at the upcoming hearing.
The original petition filed on behalf of the Eastman family alleges Justus has violated the Texas Property Code concerning residential tenancies.
“Delbert Justus has refused to remedy the problems with Bryan Eastman and Chelsey Eastman’s mobile home despite their many requests for him to do so,” the petition reads, noting, “Defendants have charged plaintiffs exorbitant utility fees as a result of the malfunctioning of equipment in the mobile home.”
Citing the property code relating to interruption of utilities, the petition reads, “ … a landlord may not interrupt or cause the interruption of water, wastewater, gas or electric service furnished to a tenant by the landlord as an incident of the tenancy or by other agreement unless the interruption results from bona fide repairs, constructions or an emergency.”
The petition also alleges Justus has refused to install a smoke detector and repair the doors to the exterior as required under the property code. The back door is secured by a padlock with a key instead of a deadbolt, while the front door is broken and does not lock, the petition reads, noting there are no doors to the bedrooms, bathrooms or closets.
“The smell of raw, human waste permeates the grounds of plaintiff’s mobile home and is so powerful that they are unable to use two bedrooms of the mobile home and one bathroom,” the petition reads. “It was discovered that sewage pipes beneath the mobile home have cracks, some of which are duct taped together.”
Chelsey said she holds out hope the family’s living situation will improve.
“You would think it’s cheap living here, but it’s not because we’re constantly paying over on all of the utilities. It’s been one thing after another,” she said, saying they’ll continue their search for a better place to live even as they haul in water and the legal process moves forward.
“I do have faith,” she said.
Contact JoAnn at firstname.lastname@example.org or 469-517-1452.