Bill of the Week
Austin-area rep. wants landlords to think twice before disregarding eviction laws
HB 3561Author: Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin
Filed: March 12, 2015
Inspired by the recent fate of Jumpolin – an Eastside piñata store demolished by new property owners, allegedly without notice – Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, has crafted a bill to bolster existing safeguards protecting wrongfully evicted tenants. The representative, who lives just four blocks from the former Jumpolin site, would increase penalties to "... up to 25 percent of the fair market value of the property from which the claimant was evicted," replacing an existing cap of $200,000 or twice the economic damage to a tenant, whichever is greater. Formerly an Eastside fixture at 1401 E. Cesar Chavez, Jumpolin was demolished last month by F&F Real Estate Ventures, who acquired the property in October 2014. F&F Ventures' concurrent application for a permit to stage a SXSW-timed event at the site along with the demolition permit – both submitted to the city months before Jumpolin's demolition – has given rise to theories the real estate owners had planned from the beginning to profit from SXSW crowds by demolishing the business, despite the two years left on its lease. Informally dubbed "the piñata bill" by Rodriguez's aides, the bill's inspiration is further evidenced in its language: "a claimant ... may also recover exemplary damages if the claimant proves by a preponderance of evidence that the wrongful eviction was pursued by the property owner solely for the purpose of putting the property to a more profitable use." However, Rodriguez says it's about more than just the one widely reported instance: "This case became high profile, but I can imagine this happens across the state but people don't have money to go to the court. What I decided to do is make it really painful for someone to do this, to make it hurt so much that they'll think twice."