Weary of his legal battle with the city of Fort Worth, the owner of a Las Vegas Trail apartment complex plagued by crime says he will sell the property.
The owner, John Baker, 56, of Arlington, agreed to terms of a temporary injunction with the city of Fort Worth this week.
"No, we're not going to be long-term owners," Baker said. He has made his living buying low-income apartment complexes on the cheap, and often installing one of his sons as landlord. "I don't like being nailed on somebody else's stuff I can't control."
Baker purchased Mira Monte about six years ago and named his son Matthew, 36, who resides in Amarillo, as owner of the sprawling complex situated at the southwest corner of Las Vegas Trail and Calmont Avenue.
Beset by recurring violent crime on the premises that city attorneys contend went on unabated, the city filed a lawsuit in November and followed up with a temporary injunction after an armed robbery on the property on New Year's Day.
Four key terms were agreed upon Monday, including the hiring of an armed security presence to monitor the property 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Baker, who called legal process "too traumatic" to stay on as owner, said he hired a security company soon after the filing of the temporary injunction nearly two months ago at a cost of about $18,000 a month.
Baker has consistently argued that he has no control over criminal activity that initiates elsewhere in the poverty-ridden neighborhood and spills onto his property. He said his location across the street from two convenience stores that attract loiterers at all hours, and on a corner frequented by drug dealers makes his property vulnerable to crime.
"My true opinion is that you have to nail the suckers that are doing the crime," John Baker said. "I was out there the other night and talked to security about a guy out there and he said he's selling drugs. I said get off my property. I have to have a pistol ready to get in a gunfight. I can't control what's on the other side of the fence."
Other terms agreed upon in the temporary injunction include:
- Installation of lighting that illuminates all common areas of the property in compliance with a security survey performed by the Fort Worth Police Department; Bakers said proper lighting has already been installed
- Installation of secure fencing around the property and maintaining entry and exit gates to only residents, fire, police and other emergency personnel have access to the property
- Installation of video cameras
City attorney Chris Mosley said he is encouraged so far by the steps taken by Baker.
"It shows they're not only cooperating with the city, but that they are taking this very seriously," Mosley said.
If the crime rate on the property drops between now and June 1, the city will allow Baker to reduce the hours of armed security patrol to 2 p.m. to 2 a.m.
If the terms of the temporary injunction are not adhered to, either John Baker or his son Matthew, the legal owner, will be subject to fines and possible jail time. A court date is set for Oct. 8. The initial lawsuit requested a permanent injunction, which could shut down the property for one year, an outcome the city would prefer not to see because it would displace hundreds of residents.
"I am pleased that the Mira Monte owner will finally prioritize safety for his residents," city councilman Brian Byrd said. "The LVT apartment owners must be part of the solution if we are going to see the area become safe again."
Baker said he hopes to have the complex sold prior to the October court date. Baker said he purchased the downtrodden property for about $1 million and was asking $5 million in December. He said he has fielded inquiries, but that no prospective buyer had come close to his initial asking price.
"We'll get somebody that would love to take it over," John Baker said.
Mira Monte is one of two Las Vegas Trail properties being sued by the city, the other being the decrepit Knights Inn on the I-30 service road. While the city has not filed for a temporary injunction against the motel that serves more as a long-term housing facility, a recent shooting on the property caught the eye of city attorneys.
On person was hit and a 23-year-old woman living with her husband at the motel narrowly missed being struck when a stray bullet penetrated the wall and blasted through just above her head. Mosley said the city has "not yet" decided if it will file for a temporary injunction against Knights Inn owner Anil Patidar, a long-time nuisance of Fort Worth Code Compliance and police.
The Knights Inn court date is set for Jan. 14, 2019.
The city heightened scrutiny of Las Vegas Trail area properties after last year's Star-Telegram report highlighted long-neglected poverty, violent crime, child neglect and other issues.