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Dagnes v. Oxford Place Apartments

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

August 6, 2019


          On Appeal from the County Civil Court at Law No. 2 Harris County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 1115018

          Panel consists of Justices Keyes, Kelly, and Goodman.


          Evelyn V. Keyes, Justice

         Appellant, Melanee Dagnes, appearing pro se, challenges the trial court's judgment in favor of appellee, Oxford Place Apartments (Oxford Place), in its forcible-detainer action against her for nonpayment of rent.[1] In what we construe to be three issues, [2] Dagnes contends that the trial court was biased against her, the evidence of nonpayment was insufficient, and her eviction was retaliatory in violation of the Texas Property Code. See Tex. Prop. Code Ann. §§ 92.331, .335 (prohibiting retaliation by landlord for certain acts taken by residential tenants).

         We affirm.


         Oxford Place, a public housing development operated by Houston Housing Authority (HHA), filed an eviction petition in the Harris County justice court, alleging that "for the period beginning June [2018] and running through the present," Dagnes failed to pay rent totaling $103.00.[3] The justice court entered a judgment of possession in favor of Oxford Place and ordered Dagnes to pay $186.06 in rent owed, $100.00 in attorney's fees, and court costs. Dagnes appealed to the Harris County civil court at law for a trial de novo.[4]

         At the hearing, the trial court admitted into evidence Oxford Place's Exhibit 1, the Residential Lease Agreement (the Lease) between Dagnes and HHA, dated July 1, 2017. The Lease permitted Dagnes and her three children to occupy Oxford Place unit #807 (the "property") for a term of one year, and it required her to pay rent in the amount of $103.00 on the first day of each month. It also provided that a $15.00 late fee would be incurred for rent not received by the fifth day of the month.

         The Lease gave HHA the right to terminate "only for serious or repeated violations of material terms of the Lease, or for other good cause," such as "failure to . . . make payments due under the Lease." It further stated that "[i]f rent is not paid on time, Tenant is in default and all remedies under state law and this Lease contract will be authorized."

         The Lease also stated that payment for "charges in addition to rent" is due "on the first day of the month after the charge is incurred provided that a minimum of fourteen (14) days' notice has been given," and that failure to pay such charges "in full when due is a serious lease violation and shall be grounds for lease termination."

         To terminate for nonpayment of rent, the Lease required HHA to give fourteen days' written notice stating the "specific reasons for the termination," informing the tenant of her "right to make such reply as he/she may wish," and offering the tenant an opportunity for a grievance hearing. The Lease also prohibited HHA from terminating "until the time for the tenant to request a grievance hearing has expired."

         Patrizia McQueen, Oxford Place's property manager, testified that Dagnes's Lease was terminated because she failed to pay her June 2018 rent, as reflected in Oxford Place's Resident Ledger for Dagnes' account (the Ledger), which the trial court admitted as Exhibit 3.

         The Ledger included a $104.59 charge dated March 6, which McQueen explained was for replacing broken miniblinds in Dagnes's unit. The trial court admitted the maintenance invoice notice for the charge into evidence as Exhibit 2. The notice stated that the $104.59 charge was "incurred and authorized when [Dagnes] called in work order #728607," provided that payment was due on May 1, and advised that "failure to pay maintenance charges or other fees in addition to rent in full when due is a serious lease violation and grounds for lease termination."

         The Ledger also reflected a $15.00 late-rent fee for Dagnes's failure to pay March rent by the fifth of the month. McQueen testified, and the Ledger reflected, that Dagnes paid $118.00 on March 26, covering her March rent and the late fee and bringing her balance to zero, but carrying forward the $104.59 maintenance charge due May 1.

         Dagnes paid her April rent on time but was late with her May rent payment, and thus incurred another $15.00 late fee. On May 29, Dagnes made a $221.00 payment to her account. McQueen testified that of that amount, Oxford Place allocated the first $118.00 to pay Dagnes's May rent and late fee, and the remaining $103.00 to pay down the overdue maintenance invoice of $104.59, leaving Dagnes with a balance of $1.59.

         McQueen testified, as reflected in the Ledger, that Dagnes did not pay her June rent by June 5. McQueen further testified that on June 6, she delivered a notice to Dagnes that her Lease would be terminated for nonpayment of rent. The notice, which the trial court admitted as Exhibit 4, informed Dagnes that she had ten days to request a grievance hearing.

         On June 24, McQueen sent Dagnes a notice to vacate, stating that she had three days to vacate the property and advising her of HHA's intention to file an eviction suit against her should she fail to comply. The ...

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