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Abraham v. Victory Apartments

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

May 9, 2019


          On Appeal from the County Civil Court at Law No. 1 Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 1091349

          Panel consists of Chief Justice Frost and Justices Zimmerer and Hassan



         In two issues, appellant Natosha Abraham challenges the trial court's final judgment in appellee Victory Apartments' forcible detainer action. For the reasons below, we affirm.


         Abraham leased an apartment at the Houston Housing Authority's Victory Apartments development. Victory Apartments is a federally-subsidized housing development and the amount of Abraham's rent was derived from an income-based formula. Victory Apartments terminated Abraham's lease in February 2017 on the basis of nonpayment of rent.

         Abraham failed to vacate the apartment and Victory Apartments filed a forcible detainer action. The justice court signed a judgment for Victory Apartments and Abraham appealed the judgment to the county court. The parties proceeded to a de novo trial. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 510.10(c).

         The county court admitted the following exhibits at the parties' bench trial: (1) a residential lease agreement between the Houston Housing Authority and Abraham; (2) a "Notice of Termination of Dwelling Lease for Nonpayment of Rent" addressed to Abraham; (3) a "Final Notice to Vacate" addressed to Abraham; and (4) a spreadsheet showing Abraham's employment, income, rent, and payment for each month from January 2012-April 2017. Victory Apartments argued that Abraham failed to make the payments required by the residential lease, necessitating its termination.

         Abraham represented herself at trial and asserted that Victory Apartments erred in its application of the earned income disallowance benefit ("EID") to her account. See 24 C.F.R. § 960.255 (West 2018). Extended to residents of federally-subsidized housing, the EID benefit allows tenants who have been out of work to accept a job without having their rent increased in proportion to their income. See id.

         After arguments and the presentation of evidence, the trial court walked the parties through each monthly entry on the spreadsheet showing Abraham's payment and employment history. On the record, the trial court retroactively applied the EID benefit, went through the necessary calculations, and concluded that Abraham owed $1, 326 in unpaid rent. Abraham acknowledged that she owed this amount. The trial court instructed Abraham, "I want to make sure you fully understand and agree," to which Abraham responded:

I understand. I understand. The only thing I have an issue with is that instead of them - this all could have been avoided when I brought this issue in July and told y'all what was going on. No one addressed it.
* * *
That's what makes me upset, that I had to go this far just for a mistake to be corrected and no one took accountability.

         The trial court asked Abraham to provide a timetable for repayment of the $1, 326. Abraham stated that the repayment would require "[a] couple of months, maybe less."

         The trial court signed an agreed settlement order that states, in relevant part, as follows.

1. [Abraham] shall pay late rent to [Victory Apartments] in the sum of $1, 326 by making six monthly payments of $221, with payments beginning in May 2017, and continuing for six consecutive months thereafter.
2. [Abraham's] payment of late rent, as set forth in paragraph 1 above, shall be in addition to her payment of her monthly rent amount, which monthly rent amount is currently $688 per month. [Abraham] remains responsible for timely paying her monthly rent.
* * *
5. If [Abraham] fails to comply with the terms set forth herein . . . then [Victory Apartments] shall be entitled to judgment awarding it sole possession of the premises . . . and awarding to it any unpaid rent that is due and owing.

         Victory Apartments filed a motion for entry of judgment several months later, asserting that Abraham had failed to comply with the terms of the agreed settlement order.

         The trial court held a hearing on the motion; Abraham and Victory Apartments' property manager testified regarding Abraham's payment history and compliance with the agreed settlement order. The trial court again undertook the relevant calculations and determined that Abraham owed Victory Apartments $3, 430 in unpaid rent. The trial court asked Abraham when she could pay the amount owed; Abraham stated that she could provide the payment in two days.

         The trial court signed a final judgment on October 4, 2017, stating that Victory Apartments would nonsuit its claim if Abraham paid $3, 430 by October 6, 2017. If Abraham failed to pay this amount, the final judgment states that Victory Apartments is entitled to possession of Abraham's apartment and a $3, 430 judgment for unpaid rent.

         Abraham did not comply with the terms of the final judgment. The Harris County Clerk issued a writ of possession for the apartment Abraham was leasing and a constable executed the writ on October 24, 2017. The returned writ of possession was filed in the trial court.


         Abraham proceeds pro se on appeal. In two issues, Abraham challenges (1) the trial court's application of the EID benefit; and (2) the agreed settlement order's repayment schedule. We examine these arguments below.

         As a preliminary matter, we address our jurisdiction with respect to Abraham's appeal. See Freedom Commc'ns, Inc. v. Coronado, 372 S.W.3d 621, 624 (Tex. 2012) ("we must consider our ...

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