The operators of the Mira Monte Apartments on Las Vegas Trail contend they are being unfairly targeted by the city’s recent lawsuit, but say they are working quickly to comply in hopes of avoiding a court date.
“I think it will be resolved beforehand,” said John Baker of the lawsuit. “I think the city will see that we’re doing everything in our power, I think. But maybe not. I don’t know. We don’t want to waste our time and money. We’d rather spend the $100,000 on more materials here than in court fees.”
Baker, 55, lives in Arlington and has made his living buying low-income apartment complexes on the cheap in gritty neighborhoods in Fort Worth, Dallas and Amarillo, and then serving as landlord. In recent years, he’s brought his two sons into the business. Matthew John Baker, 29, lives in Amarillo, but is the owner of the Mira Monte Apartments.
This week, John Baker and his younger son, Jeff, 26, have been overseeing exterior work to the complex, and repairs to at least 10 boarded-up units. Fort Worth Code Compliance in the last three months has ramped up inspections of the property, the last of which was Nov. 30. The Bakers were given 30 days to comply with a lengthy list of repairs and renovations.
The city’s nuisance abatement lawsuit, however, is based solely on the high crime rate on the property, a fact John and Jeff Baker said unfairly targets the complex because of its location on the heavily trafficked corner of Las Vegas Trail and Calmont Avenue. The suit was filed in November.
Baker contends that crime, especially violent crime like a recent shooting on the property that served as the final straw for the city to file the lawsuit, tends to spill onto his property. He said crimes on the property are rarely committed by tenants.
“We’re not in control of everything that happens on this street,” John Baker said. “We have security here, we’ve made our lighting a lot better. We’ve done everything that we can to make it as safe as possible.”
Fort Worth attorneys disagree. They believe Mira Monte’s owners failed to heed recommendations to help deter crime on the property spelled out during a meeting in which the Bakers were summoned to City Hall in September.
“Our lawsuit is crime-data driven,” city senior assistant attorney Chris Mosley said.
Jeff Baker said he believes the city is cracking down on Mira Monte because it wants to acquire the land for new projects.
“The city is just doing this because they want this property so bad,” he said, suggesting that the city has actually shown interest “in buying the land.” He claims the city’s lawsuit an attempt “to do everything they could to strong-arm us into giving into them.”
John Baker said he’s unsure of the city’s motivation. He said he interprets the lawsuit as the city’s way “to slap the owners around and say, ‘Hey, you better do the best you can or we’re going to take it away from you,’ is basically what I think.”
Mosley and City Councilman Brian Byrd, whose Las Vegas Trail Revitalization Project has spurred increased scrutiny on the area’s landlords and the root of violent crime, disputed the claim that city attempted to or wants to acquire Mira Monte’s five acres.
John Baker said he has had non-city offers to buy the property, but that none have come close to his $5 million asking price. The Tarrant Appraisal District lists the property’s market value at $4.92 million. However, one local real estate agent said the property “by all indications would need substantial renovations done” to fetch anywhere close to John Baker’s asking price.
John Baker said his son purchased it for about $1 million in 2012.
Byrd said his best-case scenario is for the Bakers to commit to being responsible business owners and accountable landlords. Otherwise, he said he would prefer to see the property sold to new owners.
“We just want to do whatever the city wants us to do to put this lawsuit behind us,” John Baker said.