by Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas and Texas Legal Services Center
As a Dallas-area real estate broker calls the terms of a real estate contract, “sloppy, contradictory, and ridiculously unfair,” Julian Campos simply wants to remain at and become the owner of the place he has called home for more than 15 years.
“It’s always been my dream to own my own home,” Campos said. “I thought I now did. Now that I know my house could be taken from me at any time, I want a fair opportunity to truly own my home.”
A team of attorneys with Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas (LANWT) and the Texas Legal Services Center (TLSC) are helping to give Campos and other buyers that opportunity through a federal lawsuit filed against the seller on May 31. The lawsuit was brought on behalf of West Dallas residents who were induced to sign contracts that do not give them real ownership of their homes. Based on the contract language, as well as facts related to the contract execution, the suit alleges violations of numerous consumer protection laws including the Truth in Lending Act.
“These predatory mortgage contracts include a ‘snatch-back clause’ that can be exercised by the lender at any time and for any reason to force clients to pay back the full amount of the loan,” said Stephanie Champion, an Equal Justice Works fellow and attorney with LANWT’s Community Revitalization Project. “In reality, he is no more secure now as a ‘homeowner’ than he was as a renter facing the threat of eviction.”
“Our clients’ loans are unfair and illegal, and we’re going to put a stop to them,” said Ann Maldonado Heaps, an attorney with TLSC’s Impact Litigation Team. “The terms of the contract are misleading and the more disadvantageous terms were omitted from any explanation to our clients. These are illegal contracts and our clients deserve better.”
While helping clients address unfair contract terms is not unusual for legal aid attorneys, the effort to help Campos and others who may have signed similar contracts represents a unique collaboration between two legal service providers that have a long history of fighting to preserve the rights of those who would have limited access to justice if left on their own.
“We are excited to join LANWT in helping their clients,” said Wayne Krause Yang, managing attorney of TLSC’s Impact Litigation Team. “Our team was created to litigate cases that can make systemic change and to assist other legal non-profits. We hope other attorneys will approach us with potential cases and opportunities to work as partners.”
John M. Hasley, LANWT’s deputy director of litigation, agrees. “This collaboration with TLSC is a remarkable example of the work being done by LANWT’s Community Revitalization Project to make a serious, lasting impact in the communities that need it most. We are committed to ensuring access to affordable, fair, and safe housing for all.”
Meanwhile, the team is working hard to ensure that Campos and others who may have signed contracts with similar language have an opportunity to be heard, and they have strong support by those who routinely deal with real property contacts, such as Mindy Henderson, a local real estate broker and mortgage compliance officer.
“These loan contracts are ridiculously unfair,” Henderson said. “The documents that the buyers received are sloppy, contradictory, and incomplete, and do not comply with numerous laws and regulations. Further, the contract terms are nonstandard, and these first-time buyers, who were not represented in the process, do not have a full understanding of the concessions to which they agreed.”