Austin lawyer Dario Bargas has sued his former “landlords,” alleging he tolerated 100-degree temperatures in his leased law office when the building’s air conditioner stopped working. But the lawyer for defendants Rehmat Peerbhai and AMCO Insurance Group Inc. says they promptly repaired the occasional A/C problems and obtained an eviction against Bargas for failure to pay rent.
Bargas says he has leased a new office in downtown Austin, hoping for a Nov. 15 move-in.
“I don’t have to explain to you how hot it can get,” says Bargas, noting clients still visited the office. “Everyone who came in made a comment about the heat and how miserable it was.”
“We have a claim against him for back rent he owed and for attorney’s fees,” says Marc Wojciechowski of Wojciechowski & Associates in Spring, who represents the defendants.
Bargas filed his original petition on Sept. 20 — the same day he alleges he arrived at the office and “found a letter on the door indicating that he was locked out due to non-payment of rent.” He also filed an application for temporary restraining order, temporary injunction and permanent injunction.
The air conditioning failed at least 40 times, leaving the office without A/C for more than 100 days, and temperatures reached 100 degrees, creating “miserable and deplorable conditions,” Bargas alleges in the petition, filed in Travis County’s 200th District Court. He claims the defendants had the sole obligation under the lease to service and repair the A/C.
Further, Bargas alleges “the leased space was never properly inspected, is not up to city code . . . and is not fit for habitability and occupancy.”
“[T]he Plaintiff alleges that he was not required to pay rent based on the violations. . . .”
Bargas’ causes of action include breach of contract, violation of implied warranty of suitability, violation of the real estate fraud statute, violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, common-law fraud and illegal lockout. He seeks damages, pre- and post-judgment interest, attorney fees and court costs.
But Wojciechowski says the A/C only went out occasionally and the landlord repaired it immediately. He says they followed provisions in Texas Property Code Chapter 93 to lock out Bargas for nonpayment of rent, and they secured an eviction on Oct. 5 from a justice of the peace.
Bargas writes in an email that the defendants secured the eviction “only on technical grounds — nothing substantive.”
While Bargas was locked out, 300 confidential client files and 10 computers were locked in, Bargas alleges in his application for TRO, temporary injunction and permanent injunction.
“[F]or Plaintiff to continue to provide responsible representation to his clients, Plaintiff must be allowed to occupy premises. . . ,” Bargas writes in the application.
Judge Tim Sulak of the 353rd District Court granted the TRO on Sept. 20, ordering the defendants to stop preventing Bargas from entering the office.
But on Sept. 27, Bargas filed a motion for contempt, alleging the defendants denied him access, “telephoned the police and reported Plaintiff for burglary,” denied use of the elevators, and removed his signs from the building’s common area and above his office door.
In an Oct. 2 original answer subject to plea in abatement, the defendants deny the allegations in Bargas’ petition. They claim AMCO isn’t liable because it’s “not a party to the Lease Agreement” and “had no involvement in the transactions.”
They also allege the court lacks jurisdiction because the claims are subject to arbitration. The agreement between Peerbhai and Bargas has an arbitration clause, and the defendants “respectfully request that this Court abate this proceeding and compel Plaintiff to arbitrate,” the defendants write in their answer. [See the petition, the answer, the TRO application, the objection, the TRO, a motion for contempt, and an order granting immediate possession.]
Bargas didn’t pay four months of rent, the defendants allege in their Oct. 2 objection to temporary restraining order and request for injunctive relief, request for dissolution of temporary restraining order, request for abatement and request for referral to arbitration.
“Peerbhai has the right under Texas law to retake possession of the premises without interference from this Court,” allege the defendants.
Wojciechowski says the office was habitable, and he notes the lease contained an “as-is clause” so the office did not have any warranties. The defendants did not violate the TRO — they allowed Bargas and his employees to access the office, he says. Wojciechowski adds that the defendants only removed signs Bargas had placed in the building’s lobby, because “the lease did not allow that to occur.”