A Haltom City landlord spent five days in jail after he ordered a renter to leave, manually cut off her utilities, and ignored a judge’s order to turn them back on, the tenant’s attorney said.
Jay Huckabay, 49, of Lake Worth, was released from the Tarrant County Jail on Tuesday.
His attorney, Brad Shaw, argued his client mistakenly believed the renter had moved out.
According to court records, Susan Gilbert, who lives with two teenaged grandchildren, rented a house on Janada Street from Huckabay two months ago, just a the coronavirus outbreak was spreading across the country.
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Her job took a hit because of lockdown restrictions and, working on commission, so did Gilbert's wages and she fell $300 short of paying her monthly rent.
Huckabay then served her with an order to vacate, a step necessary before an owner can formally evict a renter. However, Texas has placed a moratorium on evictions until May 18.
On April 21, Huckabay manually turned off the water and gas and placed locks on the utility boxes.
Two days later, Gilbert, with the help of attorneys from Legal Aid, filed a lawsuit. At a hearing the same day, Justice of the Peace Ralph Swearingin ordered Huckabay to immediately turn the utilities back on.
But the following day, on April 24, the utilities were still off.
Huckabay returned to the house two days later and threatened to call child welfare workers to “come and take” Gilbert’s grandchildren, she said.
Unable to bathe or even wash her hands, Gilbert checked into a hotel.
On April 27, when she returned to her house, Gilbert said the locks had been removed but the water and gas had not been restored as the judge ordered.
In addition, Gilbert found the internet cable had been cut and two new “no trespassing” signs had been nailed to the garage door, her mailbox had been removed and a breaker that powered an air conditioner was gone.
On May 1, the judge ordered Huckabay held in contempt of court and jailed for 72 hours. It wasn't immediately clear why he spent an additional 48 hours behind bars.
Meanwhile, Gilbert has filed a separate lawsuit against Huckabay asking for damages of $500, one month’s rent of $1,200 plus $1,000, mental anguish damages of $3,000 and attorney’s fees.
The case is still pending.
Shaw, the landlord’s attorney, said he does not represent him on the new lawsuit.
Huckabay could not be reached for comment.