Little Rock housing complex facing AG lawsuit set to go to city court Monday

By: - November 14, 2022 6:00 am

The interior of an apartment at Big Country Chateau (Tess Vrbin/Arkansas Advocate)

Management of a housing complex on Colonel Glenn Road is scheduled for a Little Rock environmental court hearing Monday after multiple delays.

Big Country Chateau faces several city code violations for unsafe and unhealthy living conditions, including mold, broken windows and scattered trash. Tenants have said that management often has not responded to maintenance requests and “scrambled” to do so after management’s nonpayment of utility bills became public knowledge.

Monday’s hearing was postponed three times after being scheduled for Aug. 29, Sept. 21 and Oct. 3.

Sylvester Smith, the attorney representing Big Country Chateau, said on Oct. 3 that about 90% of the “life and safety issues” cited by code enforcement officers at the complex had been resolved. He asked the court to give the complex more time to fix problems at about 10 units where tenants have not allowed management inside.

The 151-unit complex and its parent company, New Jersey-based Apex Equity Group, also are facing a consumer protection lawsuit alleging deception and mistreatment of tenants filed in August by Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge.

The Pulaski County Circuit Court complaint alleges that Big Country Chateau rented out units despite knowing those units violated city code.

“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.

Additionally, Big Country Chateau tenants almost lost access to water and electricity Sept. 1 because complex managers did not pay the utility bills despite promising tenants they would do so, according to Rutledge’s lawsuit.

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

Big Country Chateau management paid off its $70,000 debt to Entergy Arkansas and made “arrangements” with Central Arkansas Water before Sept. 1, so both utilities still provide services to the complex.

Rutledge said in August that her office is collecting consumer complaints about unsafe living conditions at other apartment complexes owned by Apex. These complaints are usually mediated by the attorney general’s office, but in this case they contribute to the office’s legal case against Apex and Big Country Chateau, a spokeswoman for Rutledge said in September.

One of the lawsuit’s goals is to prohibit Apex from doing business in Arkansas ever again.

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Tess Vrbin, Arkansas Advocate
Tess Vrbin, Arkansas Advocate

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. A Midwesterner by birth, she graduated from the University of Missouri's journalism school in 2019.

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