Property owner and accused ‘slumlord’ Ramon Juarez entered the South Austin Coalition’s 342 S. Laramie office a little nervous but appeared willing to face the mounting complaints by his tenants concerning his Austin apartment building.
In response to last week’s Austin Weekly News article concerning a May 23 protest held by SACCC on behalf of tenants at the 5501-03 W. Quincy building, and after numerous unreturned phone calls, Juarez contacted the paper last week and agreed to a meeting with tenants last Thursday at SACCC.
Convening the meeting was SACCC Housing Director Theresa Welch-Davis. Also attending on behalf of Cong. Danny Davis was Raymond D. Gye, a constituent services representative for Davis.
Before getting under way, there was concern by tenants that the gentlemen attending was not really Juarez but an imposter. Juarez assured everyone that he was indeed the owner and the person they have done business with in the past.
Tenants accuse Juarez of stealing their gas and electric utilities by jerry-rigging the building’s pipes. They also accuse Juarez of not complying with building maintenance codes.
Inspectors from Peoples Energy discovered the rigged pipes shortly before the May 23 protest.
Gye explained to Juarez that the congressman’s office had been contacted because constituents “have a very grave situation.”
Welch said SACCC learned of nine families that were going to be displaced because their water was being shut off.
Juarez responded to the allegations saying, “I was making a deal with the bank (Archer Bank) to take the property, like they did with other properties. They were to take over. I don’t know what happened – I have to talk with my lawyer.”
Welch replied, “Do you realize that you owe $5,000 on the water bill? You owe $14,000 for lights and you owe $12,032.32 on the gas. You allowed them to be in this building with no heat for the winter.
Juarez shook his head as to say no.
“Yes you did, sir,” Welch replied. “The Peoples Energy was there with the inspector and determined you negligent of jerry-rigging pipes. You even gave a tenant $1,000 to help pay for gas that was being stolen.”
Welch said she herself spoke with the tenants’ lawyer.
But Juarez then explained, “Peoples Gas go into the basement and I don’t know what they do. They said ‘I did it’ I say. ‘I don’t did it.'”
Welch informed him that inspectors identified four buildings where gas pipes were jerry-rigging.
“They want to charge me with those properties, they are not my properties – I got the papers,” Juarez responded.
Gye asked Juarez what he planned to do, considering that he is still officially the owner of the Quincy building. “They can’t cook, they can’t bathe – so what are you going to do about it as the property owner?” Gye asked.
Juarez said he was going to his lawyer so he can contact the bank.
Juarez said he makes no money from the building, but Gye again reminded him that, legally, he was responsible for the building.
“Sometimes I’m tired. If I’m tired, what can I do?” Juarez said.
“I can understand what you’re saying, being a property owner myself,” Welch replied. “However, when I fall short, it’s not on my tenants – whoever I owe is not their responsibility.
“Secondly, you pay the light, gas and pay that water bill,” she told Juarez. “Then you take care of your maintenance situation, but you have not paid anything in a while. I understand if you fell behind, but when you saw yourself getting into trouble why didn’t you reach for help then?
“I’m just going to lay it down like it is. You came into the community, you snatched these various buildings and got greedy. You pulled too much at one time,” Welch said. “I want to believe in my Christian heart that you came in to do the right thing. You came also to make a profit. You forgot about the inside and the families that live there and that is wrong.”
“You’re completely wrong,” he said. “Right now I’m in a bad situation, not only this building but my own building – I’m not making any money.”
Gye and Welch explained that he is not collecting rent because the bank has him in foreclosure. If the people had been receiving the services they should have been, then he would received rent, they explained.
South Austin Coalition this week talked with a legal aid, however, they could not provide any assistance for the tenants and the building’s water company is scheduled to turn water off today.
The AWN will continue to follow this story.