Page 2 of 6
It didn't take long for the mattresses, blankets and clothes — anything Petrice Howard kept in those back rooms — to mildew. Howard moved her eight children into the one remaining bedroom and the living room.
The city found three code violations in Howard's house — leaking pipes, a leaking toilet and broken windows. The code report notes a fourth phenomenon: "rear bedroom walls and ceiling sweating and would cause a molding problem." All related repairs were to be made by Dec. 18, but the final repair was not completed until Jan. 24, according to the city. The landlord had insulation installed in the attic above the sweating bedroom — a step beyond what the law requires, said Wadley, since there's no provision for insulation or mold. This slowed the condensation, but it didn't entirely remedy the problem. Water beads remained in one corner of the room and large patches of mold remained on the walls.
Howard pays $575 a month for the roughly 1,200-square-foot house that she moved into Sept. 27, 2012. The water heater has visible damage, and according to Howard, hot water has been inconsistent. When it began to get cold, Howard realized that the heater in the living room didn't work at all — a major problem, since she and her family were already living in only the front bedroom and living room. She reported this to her landlord in mid-November. A secondhand heater was installed within a few days, but that heater didn't work properly either. It wasn't repaired until Jan. 17, after Walton-Middleton repeatedly called Cassandra Hilton, the property manager for Big Dog Homes, and Joi Whitfield, the owner, on Howard's behalf. According to tax records, Big Dog owns 54 properties in North Little Rock.
"Ms. Whitfield, she told me, 'I'm not going to spend $6,000 on that house, in that neighborhood,' " Walton-Middleton said. "In our last conversation, I discussed with her that at some point I'm going to fade into the background, and Ms. Howard needs to be assured that her concerns as a tenant are going to be answered without the threat of litigation. We shouldn't have to say 'we're going to sue you' to get you to do what needs to be done. Ms. Howard pays her rent. She needs heat."
Walton-Middleton's persistence with Big Dog Homes eventually paid off. On Jan. 30, a crew gutted Howard's back bedroom and insulated the walls, in addition to adding insulation under the house. While the repairs were made, Whitfield put Howard and her children up in Motel 6. "It's great that she's finally doing the repairs, but things should never have come to this," said Walton-Middleton. "Ms. Howard and her kids, they had to live with that for October, November, December, January. They shouldn't have had to do that."
Whitfield declined to comment except to note the repairs.
Nearly one in three Arkansans lives in a rental property.
Human Rights Watch, an organization that follows rights violations worldwide, issued on its website Feb. 5 the report "Pay the Rent or Face Arrest: Abusive Impacts of Arkansas's Draconian Evictions Law."
"Arkansas's criminal eviction law is absolutely unique," said Chris Albin-Lackey, a senior researcher for HRW and author of the report. "There's no other law in the country that deals with failure to pay rent as a criminal matter. It seems like an issue that's very much under the radar, that hasn't gotten the attention it deserves inside and outside of Arkansas."
What Orval Faubus did in 1957 was not a governor gone all mavericky. He was…
This is what we've come to: Fighting among ourselves over points in an obituary.
Rural electrification is exactly the opposite of self-help. No one self could do…
A&E Feature / To-Do List / In Brief / Movie Reviews / Music Reviews / Theater Reviews / A&E News / Art Notes / Graham Gordy / Books / Media / Dining Reviews / Dining Guide / What's Cookin' / Calendar / The Televisionist / Movie Listings / Gallery Listings