By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
Housing officials looked high and low for Johnson, but all they could find out, according to The Buffalo News, was that he might be in Ghana.
The city's housing judge then issued warrants of arrest for Davis, Johnson and Youngblood. The housing judge also ordered the demolition of the 98 properties Wizig sold to the NTI. Youngblood has not been arrested.
Wizig used to sell many properties through what is known as a contract for deed, where a buyer receives a property's deed only after paying the amount agreed upon in the contract.
In 2001, the Texas legislature increased protection for buyers of contract-for-deed properties. Whereas some safeguards previously applied to specific counties, the new law covered the state.
Under the new law, all sellers had to file annual accounting statements detailing how many payments the buyer made, or else face stiff fines. The seller also had to disclose all tax-payment and insurance information as well as warn the buyer of hidden costs such as a prepayment penalty for paying off the house before the agreed date.
Harris County court records show that during July and August 2002, Wizig granted more than 250 contract-for-deed properties to a Miami-based lender called BayView Financial Trading Group.
The lease that Lynda Bushy signed is described as an option to purchase and therefore is not protected under the 2001 contract-for-deed law.
On its face, Wizig's lease is nearly identical to the template drafted by the State Bar of Texas's Real Estate Forms Committee, a cadre of top-notch attorneys from all around Texas.
The template is meant to convey the highlights of Chapter 92 of Texas's property code in clear, direct language that is anathema to many residential leases. It boils the chapter's 46 pages down to six, leaving little room for anything but the basics. The template simply refers the lessee to the chapter in order for them to know of "certain rights." It does not explain, for example, that the landlord is required to install smoke detectors. It is also vague on eviction.
According to the template, the eviction process is a simple matter whereby a landlord may "enter and take possession of the premises" if the tenant doesn't pay rent.
But Chapter 24 of the property code (nowhere referred to in the template) describes eviction as a lengthy process requiring the landlord to notify the tenant in writing, file an eviction suit, argue before a judge and notify the tenant of a writ of possession. Only then may the landlord enter the premises, and only under the supervision of a deputy or constable.
The lease that Bushy signed differed in several ways, the most important being the section providing an option to buy. She paid a nonrefundable $2,900 option fee up front and agreed to pay timely rent for two years before she could enact the option to buy. She could then purchase the home for $87,900, a $4,395 down payment, a $250 origination fee and twice the "reasonable amount" the landlord paid for repairs, renovations, maintenance and improvements to the house. She could pay in cash or through a 12 percent, 30-year mortgage through Wizig. None of the rent, or the $2,900 option fee, would count toward buying the house.
Bushy also agreed to pay the first $750 for repairs that were "not obligations of the landlord," although the lease doesn't say what those obligations are. She agreed to pay late-rent charges at a rate of $100 for the first day and $10 for each following day.
Discounting the interest, repair costs and late charges, Bushy would pay $116,336 for a home the Harris County Appraisal District values at $69,700.
The state bar's Real Estate Forms Committee declined to comment on Wizig's lease.
"They don't feel comfortable commenting on another lawyer's legal work," says spokesperson Kimberly Schmitt.
But attorney Robert Doggett of the nonprofit Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid says the lease is one of the most egregious contracts he's seen in 14 years of practice. Doggett is an expert on tenant-landlord affairs for the agency, which provides civil representation for the indigent.
"It's overreaching; it's taking advantage of people's lack of understanding. If you had a really smart buyer on the other end of this thing, I wouldn't be worried, but of course a really smart buyer would never, ever touch this," he says.
Not only is the lease designed to prohibit the tenant from complaining about repairs, it's set up for the tenant to fail, Doggett says.
"Here's the problem: Over and over and over again in this thing, it starts talking about if you default, you lose your option" to buy, he says. "So all these technical little defaults could be used to try to keep that little option fee It's a wonderful deal for them, but it's a horrible deal for an occupant. And it's really not a very good thing for a neighborhood or the city. There's nothing good about this thing from anyone else's perspective."
Doggett's not alone.
Sam Presley of the Austin Tenants Council, which is the strongest tenant advocacy group in Texas, says the lease "allows for a lot of abuse on the part of the landlord to take advantage of the tenant."