Wednesday, December 23, 2015

UPDATE: Judge temporarily stays removal of tenants from apartments held unsafe

Posted By on Wed, Dec 23, 2015 at 5:59 PM

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The sad plight of tenants of the Alexander Apartments on Col. Glenn Road has drawn help from Legal Aid and others.

The city has ordered the apartments closed for safety reasons. Tenants must vacate by Monday. These are low-income residents, many dependent on checks not due until next month, and with family situations (felons, for example) that make it hard to find alternative housing. The city won't relent. KARK reports.

Legal Aid says it's helping. It distributed the following statement Tuesday:

It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes, or bags. At least that is what the Grinch said with his epiphany of Christmas cheer. Unfortunately, for 100 families that live in the Alexander Apartment complex in Little Rock, Arkansas, the Grinch that stole Christmas has not had such a change of heart. For months, their landlord has been warned about the horrible living conditions that the tenants suffer. Tenants and their advocates have sued landlord Jason Bolden on multiple occasions.

On Tuesday, December 22, the Center for Arkansas Legal Services, Legal Aid of Arkansas, and the Consumer Protection Clinic at the William H. Bowen School of Law intervened in a landlord-tenant lawsuit on behalf of tenants of Alexander Apartments and Arkansas Community Organizations. Tenants are being made to vacate the property with only seven days’ notice. This is also occurring over the Christmas holiday when many moving companies, storage facilities, and other businesses will be closed. The tenants ask to remain in their apartments until a hearing can occur, to withhold rent until Alexander Apartments remedies the code violations, and to be refunded for January rent that has already been paid. Regarding the lawsuit, Legal Aid of Arkansas attorney Megan Dauksch noted, “We are doing everything in our power to make sure that these families have safe and healthy homes for the holidays.”

Last week the Little Rock Fire Department Programs Code Enforcement Officers conducted a safety inspection of the complex. The City officials noted code violations, including “exposed wiring, evidence of raw sewage, absent and non-working smoke alarms, appearance of mold, carcass of a cat, water settling on the roof, plumbing and mechanical issues[.]”

Yesterday, the LRFD sent a letter to Bolden demanding that all tenants vacate the property by Monday, December 28. Last night, the City issued a notice to vacate to the tenants. One tenant received the notice to vacate her home just days after giving birth. One disabled tenant moved in just three weeks ago and has been forced to warm her apartment with a gas stove because the landlord refuses to fix her heating unit. The City only provided the notice in English, forcing many Spanish-speaking tenants to gather information about what was happening from other tenants.

Bolden filed a Verified Complaint and Motion for Temporary Restraining Order on behalf of Alexander Apartments, LLC, against the City of Little Rock. Bolden has requested that the City allow tenants to remain on the property until a hearing can be held on the matter.
Legal Aid of Arkansas and the Center for Arkansas Legal Services will continue offering help to low-income tenants experiencing issues with their landlords. Tenants can visit the Contact Form on the Arkansas legal aid website at www.arlegalservices.org/contactusevictions. They can also apply for free legal help by calling 800-9 LAW AID (800-952-9243) Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Tenants who call for help should specifically mention that they are calling about an eviction issue or housing issue. In certain counties, tenants can also apply online: www.arlegalservices.org/applyonline.

Legal Aid of Arkansas and the Center for Arkansas Legal Services are non-profit organizations that provide free legal services to low-income Arkansans with civil legal problems, including foreclosure, consumer issues, housing, help for victims of domestic abuse, and representation in public benefits. With 17 offices staffed by more than 50 attorneys throughout the state, plus a volunteer pool of more than 1,400 attorneys, legal aid services benefited more than 30,000 low-income people and the elderly with their critical legal needs annually. However, more than 722,000 people in Arkansas live at or below 125 percent of the poverty line, and thousands of those Arkansans in need are turned away due to lack of resources. Learn more at www.arlegalservices.org.

Don't be moved to believe the landlord is the victim in this dispute, though he's been portraying himself in that fashion. The apartments have demonstrable problems, but the tenants — who readily talk about the problems — say they are in such desperate straits that staying there despite the problems is preferable than no home at all.Remember, again, that Arkansas has been called the worst state in the U.S. when it comes to landlord/tenant rights. The system is totally skewed in favor of the landlords.

UPDATE: Arkansas Community Organizations
announced on Facebook this evening that they had won a temporary restraining order to prevent forced removal of tenants at least until a hearing Tuesday morning before Circuit Judge Alice Gray.

Judge Gray's temporary order in the case, in which ACO intervened on behalf of tenants with help from Legal Aid and Central Arkansas Legal Services and the UALR Bowen Legal Clinic, prohibits the city from turning off utilities to the complex.  She said the "sudden, forced" closure would cause irreparable harm to tenants — the inability to find alternative housing by Monday. She said there was "good cause" to believe the closure proceeding was done without due process, in violation of tenants' constitutional rights. She noted the tenants were indigent and represented by counsel working without fee, so she didn't require a posting of bond for their appeal of the closure order. 

The judge said she'd also determine at a future hearing whether tenants' rent should be abated until their units are "determined to be first for human habitability."

Here's the judge's order.
The city of Little Rock fought the temporary order, mostly responding to the landlord's legal arguments against closure and the economic damages he might suffer. The tenants' filing wasn't directly referenced.

PS — Bolden has passed through these pages before, when he was angling to score a big land sale of assembled rental properties in the Forest Park neighborhood to the Little Rock Tech Park, a deal at which we looked askance and which, fortunately, didn't come to pass.

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