Just like thousands of other families across the country, finances are tight for Carol Estrada and her family. When the Houston mother fell a few weeks behind on her rent, she never expected what happened next.
Just days ago the Estradas were suddenly evicted from the place they called home. Instead of gathering in their own kitchen, Estrada and her four children are crowding into a relative's home. "I went into my house, the locks were not changed yet. I went into the house and all my furniture's gone," said Estrada.
All of the furniture, clothing and much more.
"We lost memories, Jordan he lost the CDs, Ciera lost dolls, Jasmine lost everything, they don't have nowhere to sit on," said son Adam.
Estrada says her landlord took nearly all of her family's possessions.
"I had two bags of Christmas presents on the sofa," said Estrada.
All of her children's pictures are missing too. Estrada admits she was two weeks behind on her rent but never got any kind of eviction notice.
"I trusted him. I didn't think my landlord would do that to me," said Estrada.
Lewis Kinard from Lone Star Legal Aid says landlords must follow a legal eviction process and if that doesn't happen, a tenant like Estrada can go to court.
"It's completely illegal. It is the same thing as stealing, it's the same thing as burglarizing someone's home. You can sue them for the cost and value of what you've lost. There are additional damage and attorney's fees available if you win," Kinard said.
Legal Aid is hearing from more tenants in trouble these days. Compared to October through December of last year, pending tenant land lord cases have spiked. They're up a whopping 108%.
Kinard attributes the rise in part to the double-whammy created by Hurricane Ike and the economy.
Whatever the cause, just three days before Christmas, Estrada's eight-year-old daughter tries to understand.
"I have no idea how someone could do that to someone," said daughter Ciera.
Estrada filed a police report and is considering contacting a lawyer.
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