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Homeowners sue over neighbors’ rowdy parties

Thursday, October 6, 2016 by Jo Clifton

Tormented by loud, amplified music that lasted all night, drunken partygoers trespassing onto their property, cars blocking their driveway and “a parade of people coming to their door late at night ‘looking for the party,'” East Austin homeowners Christian Hartnett and Amanda Giffort filed suit against their neighbors.

Judge Amy Clark Meachum on Friday granted the couple a temporary restraining order prohibiting the property owner and a tenant from “conducting any commercial activity at the property at 1139 and 1139 1/2 Gunter Street that has any more than 10 individuals at the property at any time.”

The TRO also prohibits the defendants, Stephen Isdale and Brett Thomas, and their respective businesses, Halsid Properties LLC and Conscious Ventures LLC, from conducting any activity at the development “that creates unreasonable noise between the hours of 10:30 p.m. and 7 a.m.”

The defendants are also prohibited from communicating with the couple or trespassing on their property. The TRO was issued last Friday, the first day of the Austin City Limits Music Festival.

In his pleadings, attorney David Lawrence of Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr P.C. told the court that his clients, Hartnett and Giffort, were anticipating another sleepless weekend unless the restraining order was granted.

Lawrence told the Austin Monitor that his clients bought their home, which is part of a six-home development on Gunter Street, in June 2015. They were the first to move in, but the other units were completed within a couple of months. The problem started around October 2015, Lawrence said, when the defendant Isdale started renting out the units as short-term rentals. In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs state that the defendants did not have a short-term rental license from the city and that the condominium rules for their units prohibit using them for STRs.

The big parties started in February, Lawrence said. “My clients complained to the police, the city, to the owners of the property,” but the parties continued every weekend throughout February “without the city or anybody doing anything to stop it.”

Sometime in June of this year, the lawsuit says, Hartnett and Giffort took their complaints to the city and got some temporary relief when the city issued “a series of warnings and then citations to Isdale and (his company) for operating STRs at the compound without proper licensing and permits.” While the city’s actions prompted Isdale and his company to cease the STR activity at the compound, “it did not end the nuisance or Hartnett’s and Giffort’s misery,” the lawsuit says.

That’s because Isdale and his company “found new ways to attempt to commercialize the compound and inflict misery upon plaintiffs in the process,” the lawsuit says. That included hosting a series of parties at the compound, which included DJs and loud amplified music.

Isdale entered into a lease with Thomas to occupy two of the four units. The lawsuit alleges that in addition to hosting loud, all-night parties, Thomas operates office-sharing businesses on the property through his business, Conscious Ventures. The lawsuit says this is illegal because it is a violation of the city’s zoning regulations.

Lawrence said, “Isdale and his company have been cooperating since this lawsuit was filed.” The problem is with the other defendants, who have leased two of the homes, Lawrence said, referring to Thomas and his company.

The lawsuit says Thomas is operating two businesses out of those homes now, called Conscious Creative Hub and Conscious Healing Hub. The Monitor searched for the websites listed in the lawsuit, but they have disappeared from the web. Lawrence said the websites described an office-sharing space for artists and musicians and another space for healing professionals, such as massage therapists.

It’s not just the fact that they’re subleasing, Lawrence said, but Thomas is “also hosting massive parties with DJs and fire dancers.”

Jackie Mayo, spokeswoman for the city’s Code Department, said the city issued three citations to the property owner at 1139 1/2 Gunter for operating a STR without a permit on May 13.

Attorney Tom Murphy, who represents Isdale and his company, said, “Mr. Isdale’s position is that the petition is not accurate and the damages that have been complained of are not true. As far as the short-term rental for the Airbnb, Mr. Isdale did do that but, as stated in the petition, ceased that activity and hasn’t done so in quite some time.”

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