They paid their rent, but their landlord didn't pay the bills. Now, nearly two years after a group of Lake Worth tenants lost their homes, they say justice is served.
“I had to sleep in the laundry room for two nights,” Ron Ramalho remembered his first two nights at the Breezeway Inn in Lake Worth.
Things went downhill over the six months he lived at the motel/apartment in 2014.
“The place was infested with roaches and bed bugs,” he added.
And on top of that, Ramalho claimed the landlord, Michael Diaz, repeatedly failed to pay the utility bill. NewsChannel 5 visited the complex twice in 2014 to talk to people who were left without electricity.
Things came to a head in September 2014 when the landlord told Ramalho and other tenants living there that he wasn't paying the utilities anymore and they all had to leave immediately.
“Oh very, very frustrating,” Ramalho described the day. “If I had a car, I would have moved out the first month. The first time he didn’t pay the bills, I would have moved out.”
Ramalho and other tenants decided to fight back. They worked with the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County to sue Diaz.
“You don't think a landlord would be so reckless with their responsibility. So at first it was unbelievable,” described attorney Denise Mutamba. “And then it started to pull on you emotionally because you started to get to know these people.”
After nearly two years, a jury sided with the tenants; awarding eight of them at least $6,000 a piece.
Alison Brown from the law firm Holland and Knight helped the Legal Aid Society in the courtroom pro bono. She said the judgement is about more than money.
“It was, ‘I don't want this to happen to anyone else, I don't want these landlords, or any other landlords like that, to be able to do this to other people,’” Brown said.
“There is justice,” Ramalho cheered.
He already plans to use his money on a nice, new apartment.
“It will be such a pleasure, a relief,” he said.
County records show Diaz sold the Breezeway Inn at 2001 N. Dixie Highway.