Apartment complex says veteran violates lease after judge awards him custody of his son 

Posted at 6:45 PM, Jul 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-08 16:39:35-04

A local veteran was forced into a costly predicament by his apartment complex when an “unauthorized tenant” moved in.

That tenant just so happened to be the father’s 12-year-old son who escaped from an abusive situation with his mother. James Santos reviews his lease agreement in his apartment.

An El Paso County Judge gave James Santos immediate custody of his son but when his apartment complex found out the child had moved in, a manager reportedly told Santos to get rid of the child or face eviction and fines.

Santos lives in a 55 and older senior complex where children are not allowed.

When he signed the lease and move in, he did not have custody of his son.He said the custody “switchover” came as a surprise.

Santos says he offered to move out, but management wouldn’t let him out of his lease. Instead, he says he was threatened with lease break fees, court proceedings and was told he would lose his HUD housing assistance.

Fearing he would be homeless, Santos reached out to News 5 Investigates for help.

“I just thought it was unfair that they did that and gave me a choice of you either get rid of your son and you can stay here or you keep him and you get out,” Santos said. “We’re not talking about a pet here. It’s my son.

Court documents obtained by News 5 Investigates said Santos’ child was neglected in his mother’s care.

Rather than place the child in state care, a judge allowed Santos to have his child.

Santos says just days after he got custody of his son, he received a notice that threatened eviction if he didn’t get rid of the “unauthorized occupant”.

“I would live on the streets before giving up my son,” Santos said. “It was a really cruel way to treat someone who didn’t do anything wrong. I’ve never been evicted. The manager said that they’ll see me in court and they’ll take care of it. I felt hopeless at that moment.”

Santos identified the apartment manager at the Wyndham Place Senior Residences as Shelley Dishong.

He says Dishong not only wanted to charge him more than $1,000 in fees and damages, but also claims he was threatened with the loss of any future low-income housing assistance if he broke is lease.

“I was told that I would lose my voucher by Shelley,” Santos said.

News 5 reached out to the apartment complex for comment. While we never directly heard back from Dishong, we did hear from Beacon Management—the company overseeing operations at Wyndham Place.

At first, we were told that they couldn’t discuss Santos’ issues because they didn’t have a “release form”.

Chief Investigative Reporter Eric Ross typed up a release form and had Santos sign it, authorizing KOAA-TV News 5 to inquire about his case directly with property management.

The next day, we received a response that reads in part:

“Due to the circumstances and the financial considerations of the resident, the account was not sent to collections and no collection attempts will be made.”                                                                                      –Beacon Management

Ross immediately notified Santos of the decision.

“I can’t ask for anything better,” Santos said. “That’s awesome. That’s really great, Eric. Thank you so much. I can’t thank you enough.”

Santos has since found housing elsewhere and News 5 Investigates was able to verify he will continue receiving HUD vouchers for housing assistance.

“There should be something put in place where you don’t have to worry about things like that and have to make a decision that you have to give up your child or relative to live there,” Santos said. “I don’t think anyone with a heart would make that choice.”

Frequently asked questions

What to do if you find yourself in a similar situation:

It’s important to read all the terms and conditions outlined in your lease.

For example, some complexes will have a section titled “protections for tenants”. In Santos’ case, the specific clause in his lease says: “If you are receiving assistance under the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program, you may not be denied assistance, terminated from participation, or be evicted from your rental housing because you are or have been a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

Also, if you or an affiliated individual of yours is or has been the victim of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking by a member of your household or any guest, you may not be denied rental assistance or occupancy rights under Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program solely on the basis of criminal activity directly relating to that domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking. Affiliated individual means your spouse, parent, brother, sister, child, or a person to whom you stand in the place of a parent or guardian; or any individual tenant, or lawful occupant living in your household.” Why wasn’t Santos’ child covered under the above clause? It appears Santos’ son was not included in the above protections because the complex does not recognize Santos’ son as a “tenant”. Under rules and regulations disclosed by the complex, Santos’ son is not allowed to live at the facility for an extended period of time. Most apartment complexes allow “guests”, but a set time limit for how long they can stay is usually disclosed in your lease.

Always notify property management in writing as soon as an issue arises. Do not wait for them to serve you with a violation notice or eviction paperwork.

Can an apartment complex legally deny children from living there?

Yes, they can. If the complex specifically caters to a certain population, those terms are typically outlined at the time you sign your lease. Keep in mind, an apartment complex is not allowed to make drastic modifications such as increase rent during the term of your lease agreement. You can read more about tenant rights, laws and protections by clicking here.