DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – A Dallas family is at risk of becoming homeless because of a dent in their car.
With a single dent, Sontlux Sukhavachana said he could lose everything.
“I got this notice on my car saying that they were gonna tow my car tomorrow,” Sukhavachana said.
Sukhavachana lives at the Biltmore Apartments in Dallas, which is run by the Ohio-based company, Fath Properties.
Each tenant must abide by the same policy: fix your car or get towed.
“We wouldn’t be able to make next month’s rent,” Sukhavachana said.
Sukhavachana is a father of three. His family, which relies on one income, also relies on one car.
“They’re expecting tenants who barely have enough money to make ends meet to invest money in cosmetic damages,” Sukhavachana said.
Fath owns 11 properties in North Texas and more than 30 complexes across the country. The “vehicle condition agreement” applies everywhere.
“Amazingly it came from our residents consistently telling us that the first thing they looked at were the cars in the parking lot,” the policy states on the Fath website. “If there were rusted, heavily dented, disabled or unsightly cars, they assumed the property was poorly operated and they would have neighbors that were unacceptable. We understand that your automobile is a personal item; however, we believe that a car that is not well maintained detracts from the overall appearance of our customer’s home.”
Sandy Rollins of the Texas Tenants’ Union denounces the policy.
“While it might not be illegal, it doesn’t mean that it’s not outrageous,” said Rollins, the executive director of the Texas Tenants’ Union.
She’s familiar with Fath because her non-profit has received complaints about the company ranging from towing to poor maintenance.
“They seem to hold tenants to a much higher standard than they hold themselves,” Rollins said.
Of the 174 Google reviews for the Biltmore, almost half of the ratings are one-star.
On Yelp, residents and former residents share pictures of what they claim to be mold, water damage and other issues.
“They’re not very motivated to repair things or make the apartment look good but they want us to keep our cars in immaculate shape,” Sukhavachana said.
The Sukhavachanas stay because they have nowhere else to go.
After receiving an extension in December, the new deadline to fix the dent is January 4, a day this father said he can’t afford to face.
“They’re discriminating against people who don’t have very much income,” Sukhavachana said.
Renters sign paperwork agreeing to upkeep their cars as part of their lease agreement.
But renters, including Sukhavachana, claim the rubric is subjective.
One renter said he got his car towed over chipped paint. Another resident said his car was towed because his car was painted two different colors.
In a statement, Fath spokeswoman Debbie Christensen declined an interview. In an e-mail she wrote:
“I don’t feel it is necessary to speak with you directly as this policy has been around for close to forty years and has been abided by and appreciated by the vast majority of our residents. Our policy is clearly communicated to all residents prior to move-in, and the reasoning behind our policy can be found at our website, http://www.fathproperties.com in the section titled “A Word From Our Owner.” This policy came from our applicants and residents consistently telling us the first thing they looked at were the cars in the parking lot. If the cars were disabled, heavily dented, rusted, unsightly, they assumed the property was poorly operated and their neighbors would be unacceptable.”
If you want to file a complaint about a towing practice, contact the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.