A Brookhaven couple who fought in court a threatened eviction, alleging retaliation for organizing a tenant protest, has reached a settlement with the landlord.
Alejandra and Yair Hernandez agreed to settle with Fifeco Property Management, owner of the Reserve at Brookhaven apartments, for $5,000. The landlord did not admit any guilt as part of the settlement agreement, which was reached Feb. 28.
The property manager threatened in DeKalb Magistrate Court to evict the couple last year for leaving children’s toys, a garbage bag and household items outside their apartment, a violation of apartment rules.
The couple filed a counterclaim saying the landlord was retaliating against them for Alejandra Hernadez’s role in organizing the mostly Hispanic and Latino tenants living at the Reserve at Brookhaven to request repairs be made to caved-in ceilings, broken air conditioners and more. The apartments are just down the road from a trailhead of the city’s first mile of the Peachtree Creek Greenway.
“My clients are warriors,” said Esther Graff-Radford, their attorney. “My clients refused to have a confidentiality clause because they wanted their community of vulnerable tenants to know they have rights.
“What was important to me about this case is that it was based on a tenant organizing a tenant union,” she said. “They were trying [to say] this case was about tricycles and strollers and a single bag of garbage one at a time.”
A call for comment to Mike Williams, attorney for Fifeco Property Management, was not immediately returned.
The Hernandezes lived in an apartment at the Reserve at Brookhaven at 1793 Briarwood Road for more than nine years. They have five children. Last year, the couple and many other Spanish-speaking residents were ordered to pay as so-called $350 penalty for having items such as bicycles and children’s toys on their patios. Alejandra Hernandez, along with the Housing Justice League and Los Vecinos de Buford Highway, helped organize neighbors in June to protest the penalty.
The $350 penalties were dismissed, but the Hernandezes started receiving notices they were violating apartment rules by leaving a garbage bag outside their door or leaving a stroller in the breezeway. Alejandra Hernandez continued to organize residents during the summer of 2019, who now called themselves Residentes Unidos. They continued to protest dangerous living conditions, called city of Brookhaven officials, called and wrote to corporate management to demand repairs and also learned their rights as tenants.
In October, the property manager threatened the Hernadezes with eviction alleging they were in violation of their contract by leaving household items outside their apartment.
The couple, represented by Graff-Radford, filed a counterclaim citing a new Georgia law that states landlords cannot retaliate against tenants who organize against unsafe conditions. If found guilty of retaliation, the landlord would have to award the Hernandezes one month’s rent, or just over $1,000, plus $500. The landlord would also have to pay attorney’s fees.
Attempts to get the eviction notice dismissed failed. The couple was able to live in their apartment until Jan. 31, 2020, when their lease expired. Although they were not evicted, the landlord can still be held liable, according to state law. The case went to court on Feb. 19 and a second hearing was set for Feb. 28. Graff-Radford said the settlement was reached shortly before the Feb. 28 hearing was to begin.
The Hernandezes now live in another apartment complex off Buford Highway in Brookhaven. Residentes Unidos, the tenant organization Alejandra Hernandez helped form, continues to ask for repairs when necessary at the Reserve at Brookhaven apartments, according to Graff-Radford.