We -Store-It, U-Lose-It?

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The most important thing to know about a writ of possession is that you do not want one levied in your direction. It is the third and most final stage of the eviction process, and by the time it has come to this, you are likely already so well and truly screwed by circumstances that you are left entirely at the mercy of the enforcing parties, who, in this case, are going to be a weirdly informal yet strangely consistent public/private merger of deputy constables from whichever of the county's eight precincts you live in and employees of a moving/storage company that specializes in this kind of thankless work, which company is almost always, according to deputies in all eight precincts, Security Storage.

Having such a writ executed on you means that, with a standard 24-hour notice, you will be made to vacate the place that you live, and that the place that you live will be secured against your re-entry. Your stuff is pretty much up for grabs.

Such writs are usually levied for nonpayment of rent. In Cuyler's case, somewhat unusually, it came in the midst of the foreclosure suit.

A judge sends the writ to the constable's office, and the constable places a written warning on the door of the dwelling in question, advising the occupant of the date and time at which the writ is to be executed. Twenty-four hours later, the writ comes down.

Louis Gonzales, a deputy constable in Precinct Six, executes these things all the time. Here, he says, is how it's supposed to work:

"If the tenant is there and they haven't removed anything, the deputy constable will ask the tenant, 'Okay, you have these things here. Do you have somewhere that they can go?' You're going to have a right to say where these things can go. If he doesn't have any type of arrangements made to remove these items, it's up to the landlord to decide….A lot of times a bonded warehouse is called out to look at the items for removal. The bonded warehouse will remove items if need be and store them, in the event that the tenant wants to come back and claim them."

Although Texas's property code contains language seemingly designed to give the tenant the upper hand, in practice it doesn't always work out that way, and what case law there is has not supported the apparently obvious intention of the words.

Lawyer Mark J. Grandich, with the Gulf Coast Legal Foundation, filed suit against Marc Seymour, Security Storage and an array of Harris County constables in 1997, on behalf of eight plaintiffs claiming abuse at the hands of this system. Some said they were threatened with arrest simply for being on the scene. Some say Seymour placed ever-shifting and undue conditions upon the return of their property; others, that he refused entirely. Some say they were subject to abusive behavior. Some say they weren't properly served notice. All say they were unable to get satisfaction, either from deputy constables or from Seymour, either the day of the move or thereafter.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed Grandich's case, even though the lawyer produced written precinct policy manuals showing the county to have explicitly instructed deputies to execute writs in a manner seemingly in contradiction to the language of the Texas Property Code:

"Under no circumstances are any items to be released to any person claiming ownership once the move has begun except for the items listed in section eight (8) of this memo ["clothing, medications, family portraits, family albums, school books, children's clothing, children's toys and other personal items"]. The tenant can regain his possessions from the moving and storage company after the move has been completed."

By the time the move has been completed, of course, the constables are done with you, your evictor is done with you, your neighbors have most likely had just about enough of you, and a large chunk of your universe has reduced itself to an evil little line with you at one end and all of your stuff at the other end, and in the middle, squatting squarely between you and what's left of your life: "Marc Seymour, Individually and as President of Securiteestor, Inc., d/b/a Security Storage."

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Brad Tyer