AG sues Little Rock housing complex for unsafe conditions, deception of tenants

By: - August 18, 2022 10:50 am

The state of Arkansas filed a consumer protection lawsuit against a Little Rock apartment complex and its owner for allegedly violating city housing code and multiple state laws, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced Wednesday.

Rutledge’s office is investigating Big Country Chateau, a 151-unit complex on Colonel Glenn Road, and Apex Equity Group, the New Jersey-based owner of the apartments.

Big Country Chateau is at risk of losing access to water and electricity for its tenants Sept. 1 because it did not pay the companies that provide these services despite promising tenants it would do so, according to the Pulaski County Circuit Court lawsuit.

“Defendants accepted payments from tenants with the understanding that such monies would be used to pay the complex’s utility bills,” the lawsuit states. “However, Defendants failed to pay the water and electric bills for the apartment complex, taking the tenants’ money and leaving them at risk of losing utilities necessary for a habitable residence.”

Accepting consumers’ money for a previously agreed-upon purpose and not using the money for that purpose is “a deceptive, false, and unconscionable business practice” that violates the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, the lawsuit states.

Breaking this law results in a Class A misdemeanor, and the attorney general may seek an injunction against the offender, according to state statute. Violators of the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act can be fined up to $10,000 per violation.

Central Arkansas Water notified tenants July 15 that it would shut off their water Sept. 1 because of unpaid bills. Big Country Chateau management owes Central Arkansas Water $222,931.70 as of July 21, the lawsuit states.

Big Country Chateau tenants wrote a July 26 letter to Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr., saying their apartments had “mold, roaches, water and sewage leaks,” and other problems. The nine tenants said they were “shocked” to learn that the owner of the complex had not paid water bills, since providing water for tenants is part of their lease agreements.

“Most of us want to move to a better place, but most of us do not have the resources to make that move,” the letter states. “That is why we urge the city of Little Rock not to close the complex without having first worked to find and secure the resources needed to help us.”

The tenants also said they might not be able to survive without shelter in the extreme heat that Arkansas has experienced this summer.

On July 27, the day after the tenants wrote to Scott’s office, Entergy Arkansas notified Big Country Chateau residents that they would lose their electricity Sept. 1 because the utility had not received electric bill payments from the complex. This also came as a surprise to tenants, according to the lawsuit.

The state’s required minimum standards for rental housing became law in 2021 and mandate hot and cold running water, potable drinking water, electricity, a sanitary sewer system, a functioning roof, and a functioning heating and cooling system.

Additionally, the city of Little Rock has a housing code enforcement system with the goal of ensuring safe and healthy living conditions. The city can issue code violations for a variety of problems including plumbing and electrical malfunctions.

The lawsuit alleges that Big Country Chateau management rented out units despite knowing those units violated city code.

Little Rock code enforcement officials inspected the property on July 27 and found several violations, according to the suit.

“Outside the buildings, trash, animal feces, and debris were found scattered throughout the lawn and around the pool; doors were missing, with empty doorways boarded up; windows were shattered; electrical boxes were open, with wires tangled and exposed; and the fire extinguisher hooks were all empty,” the lawsuit states.

The state seeks a jury trial in the case.

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Tess Vrbin
Tess Vrbin

Tess Vrbin came to the Advocate from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where she reported on low-income housing and tenants' rights, and won awards for her coverage of 2021 flooding and tornado damage in rural Arkansas. She previously covered local government for The Commercial Dispatch in Mississippi and state government for the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri.