I’ve been arrested twice in my life. The first time was for a DUI on March 9, 2019.
I started that evening out hanging with some friends Downtown at The Wharf. From there we went to Tomorrowland where I ran into one of my former students who was a bartender there. She bought me some shots, my friends bought me some more, and I made the very stupid decision to get in my car and drive home. Two blocks from my apartment, I stopped at a red light and fell asleep behind the wheel. Luckily my foot was jammed against the brake, so when the couple in the car behind me called the police to report the guy passed out in his driver’s seat, I didn’t subsequently roll into the intersection and cause an accident.
I was arrested on the scene and booked at TGK where I spent the next 18 hours in lockup until my parents could post my bond. I then spent the next two and a half years (pandemic-delayed, should’ve been less) completing Florida’s Back on Track program which included—among other punishments—alcohol safety classes, volunteer work, a breathalyzer installed in my car for six months, and roughly $10k in lawyer, court and miscellaneous fees. As a result of completing the Back on Track program, my DUI was reduced to a reckless driving traffic violation. It was a horrible experience. Do not recommend.
The second arrest came two months after my DUI.
That summer of 2019, I took a part-time job bartending to help pay for the costs of said DUI (yes, irony). During one Sunday morning shift, a couple minutes after clocking in and opening the front doors, I was counting my register when a guy walked in and sat at the bar, ordered a Corona. Admittedly and stupidly, I did not check his ID. Instead I paused counting my register to grab his beer. He accepted it and gave me a twenty. I held out his change, he took it then got up and walked out without touching the bottle. Five seconds later two ATF agents walked in and told me I was under arrest for serving a minor, though there was no need for handcuffs or another trip to TGK. They would just issue a written arrest (I didn’t know this was a thing). As a result of the charge, I paid roughly a hundred dollars for a nolle prosequi ruling. Had to look that up, but it “refers to a prosecutorial decision to no longer prosecute or to decline the prosecution of a pending criminal case.”
Just some context for what my girlfriend and I experienced a month or so ago in dealing with Horizons East condominium located at 8055 SW 107th Avenue, just off Kendall Drive (88th street).
With the lease on my old apartment ending February 28th, we started searching for a new place at the end of January. We found a beautiful apartment on Realtor.com located in Horizons East and reached out to the unit owner. We quickly developed a rapport with the unit owner (her name and my girlfriend’s are blacked out in the emails and text message screenshots for privacy) and ultimately decided to place a bid on January 26th. After doing her own background check in which she saw my arrest record, the unit owner accepted the bid. We signed the lease, paid the first month’s rent and moved on to submitting our executed lease and association application to Horizons East.
Right from the jump, Horizons East’s vetting process presented an issue. The first page of the Horizons East application states that processing takes twenty business days. Considering we submitted our application on February 2nd and our lease start date was February 15th—and also considering there are only 28 days in February 2023—twenty business days meant it would take the entire month to process the application, going into the beginning of March.
Anybody who’s ever rented and had to transition from one apartment to another knows that a month-long approval process is an unrealistic timeframe. If at the beginning of one month you are looking for a new apartment to move into by the end of that month, you presumably must move out of your old apartment by the end of that month as well. Therefore, if approval for your new apartment doesn’t come in until the next month, the association and their processing timeframe is leaving you without a place to live for however many days it takes them to come to a decision. The unit owner calmed our doubts though by telling us it was her experience that the Horizons East application process didn’t actually take that long.
February 2nd we submitted our application along with the $600 in application fees in person at Horizons East’s property management offices in West Kendall, near the Executive Airport. When we arrived, we handed our folder of documents and money orders to a woman who disappeared into the back with them for ten minutes before coming back out and saying essentially We’ll get back to you. We were given no other confirmation of our application submission, not by phone, email or any other methods. Meanwhile, my girlfriend and I continued to operate under the assumption (per the unit owner’s assurances) that the Horizons East application process was a mere formality and approval was not only guaranteed but imminent. We paid the rest of our deposit, got the apartment keys, and began the process of cleaning and bringing some minor things over to the place, waiting for Horizons East’s approval to schedule moving in our bulkier items (i.e. furniture, bed, etc.).
During this period where we had the keys but no official approval from Horizons East—roughly a week—we visited the apartment frequently to clean and plan our move, as we were given permission to do by the unit owner. We also had utilities set up in our name, per the unit owner’s request. Horizons East has roughly a half dozen security guards on staff, at least one of them manning the front gate at any given time. The majority of these security guards were kind and courteous to my girlfriend and I during our visits, all except for one: an older Hispanic woman who continually and vocally expressed her issues with our visits. Never mind that my girlfriend and I followed the protocols set by Horizons East, which is to say we contacted the unit owner during each visit, received her approval for each of these visits, and acquired the required guest passes during said visits. None of that seemed to matter to this particular security guard.
Two weeks after submitting our application, both myself and the unit owner attempted to get in contact with the Horizons East association to ask if we could get a realistic timeframe for approval. After not hearing anything from them for days, I received a forwarded email from the unit owner in which one of the Horizons East property managers stated that 20 business days is their timeframe and there is no rush option. Approval would not come in until the end of the month, we just had to eat it. To this day—as of this writing it is April 10th—this email telling us we had to wait for approval is the only correspondence I have received from Horizons East about anything involving our application. And it came secondhand, from the unit owner.
On February 23rd—three weeks after submitting our application, a week after paying our first and last month’s rent and receiving the unit keys, and five days before I was required to move out of my old apartment—I received a call from the unit owner stating that Horizons East had contacted her and informed her that our application was denied. They have still yet to inform us personally of this denial. Again, it is now April 10th.
I was at the airport at the time, getting ready to travel to Albuquerque to present an essay at a conference. The moment I got off the phone with the woman who was no longer our unit owner and realized the predicament we were in, I was forced to cancel the trip. I then spent the rest of that day removing the things we’d dropped off at the apartment we had now been told would not be ours.
On the phone at the airport, when I asked the unit owner why we’d been rejected, she said that Horizons East told her it was because of my DUI. But, the unit owner said, she believed there were other reasons, namely my race (I am a black male) and the aforementioned security guard complaining about me and my girlfriend’s visits to the unit, which she also believed to be race-related. Nothing provable at this point from a discriminatory standpoint though, so my girlfriend and I took the loss, told the unit owner we would not be appealing the decision, and went back to searching for apartments.
A few days after this fiasco, I received a text message from our former unit owner asking if I’d ever received any correspondence from Horizons East regarding our application. I told her no, not only had I not received an official decision, I had not had any direct contact with Horizons East at all since we dropped off the application on February 2nd. Expressing disbelief, the unit owner then stated that she was reporting Horizons East for discrimination.
Up until this point, I wondered how the unit owner seemed so baffled by the situation Horizons East had put us in considering she had owned this property for a while and had ostensibly rented it out to previous tenants, which meant she’d dealt with Horizons East and their application process before. However, after our text exchange I began to understand the situation better.
The unit owner explained how she had run into similar issues between Horizons East and her last tenant, a former Marine—a black Marine to be specific, insinuating that she had not dealt with these issues with other non-black tenants. This black Marine lived in her unit for a year before ultimately leaving due to issues with Horizons East , including complaints of constantly being harassed by one particular security guard—the same older Hispanic woman who gave my girlfriend and I issues.
During this correspondence, our former unit owner told me she asked Horizons East for specific reasons why my girlfriend and I were denied. Horizons East initially told the unit owner my girlfriend and I were denied because of my arrests. Suspicious, the unit owner asked Horizons to email her their official criteria for approval/denial, which they did and which she sent my way and which I have copied and pasted below:
“APPROVAL – No evictions within two (2) years of application. No felony convictions, or misdemeanor convictions within ten (10) years of application, unless sealed, expunged or pardoned, with full restoration of civil rights, not required to register as a sex offender under Florida law. Instances in which the applicant pled nolo contendere or no contest to such charges and received a withhold of adjudication may be treated as a ‘conviction’ if the applicant was required to perform community service, pay restitution or court costs, or serve supervised probation (Applicants will not be considered while awaiting trial on misdemeanor or felony charges), credit score of 650 or higher.
APPROVAL WITH CONDITIONS – All of the above but a credit score of less than 649. As a condition of approval, unit owner shall prepay the annual maintenance during the pendency of the lease term and any renewal thereof.
AUTOMATIC DENIAL – Eviction(s) within two (2) years of application. Felony convictions, or misdemeanor convictions within ten (10) years of application, unless sealed, expunged or pardoned, with full restoration of civil rights, required to register as a sex offender under Florida law. Instances in which the applicant pled nolo contendere or no contest to such charges and received a withhold of adjudication may be treated as a ‘conviction’ if the applicant was required to perform community service, pay restitution or court costs, or serve supervised probation (Applicants will not be considered while awaiting trial on misdemeanor or felony charges), credit score of less than 649 (unless conditionally approved above).”
To reiterate: my DUI charge has been reduced to a reckless driving traffic violation through Florida’s Back on Track program. And that second “arrest”—the written one—ended in a nolle prosequi ruling. Neither one of those charges fits the criteria for automatic denial, as outlined in Horizons East’s own bylaws. I have also never been evicted and have letters from previous landlords recommending me as a tenant.
When the unit owner pointed all this out to Horizon, they switched their reasoning on her, stating that my girlfriend and I were actually denied because our credit scores are too low (student loans, I’m working on it). In response, the unit owner pointed at the line under “APPROVAL WITH CONDITIONS” where it states: “…a credit score of less than 649. As a condition of approval, unit owner shall prepay the annual maintenance during the pendency of the lease term and any renewal thereof.”
In other words, the application my girlfriend and I submitted should have been accepted conditionally, with us and the unit owner being given the option to pay annual maintenance fees a year in advance. We were not given this option. We were simply denied.
Again, all this information I received through correspondence with the unit owner. I still have not received any direct correspondence from Horizons East about our application.
I’m recounting all of this to try and bring a case of housing discrimination to light, obviously. But I’m also writing because my experience with this didn’t have any long-lasting effects. As I had already told my previous landlord I was moving out of my old apartment, I was forced to move back in with my parents for a bit while my girlfriend and I looked for new residence. We did so and moved into our place a couple of weeks ago. We’ve got it setup, we’re almost unpacked and the situation is copacetic now.
But what if we didn’t have our parents?
What if Horizons East’s actions during this process had led to us being homeless for any period of time? How would that have affected our jobs? Our relationship? Our mental fortitude?
Pulling up to any intersection in Miami, I glimpse the many down-on-their-luck individuals begging for change at the corner. And I wonder how many of these people ended up there through no fault of their own. I wonder how many Housing Associations have permanently uprooted and destroyed people’s lives with their lack of transparency that frequently masks discriminatory practices.
I will be reporting Horizons East to the Florida Commission on Human Relations. The unit owner is already in the middle of her own report, which is pending investigation. Because of Horizons East’s actions, my girlfriend and I lost out on $1000 in rent to the unit owner for the period of time we had the unit keys, along with the $600 in association application fees—$250 of which was supposed to be refundable (haven’t heard anything from them about that either). Additionally, I personally lost over $700 in expenses due to canceling my Albuquerque speaking engagement in order to deal with this situation. Beyond money, that is a professional development opportunity that I will never get back. None of these losses will be reimbursed, and while I took the punch and kept on trucking, I can easily see circumstances where Horizons East’s actions could have ruined my life.