House owned by landlord previously sued by AG no longer risks tenants’ life and safety, lawyer says
Safety risks arose after tenants moved into the house, which does not violate the landlord’s legal settlement with the state
Terry Lauderdale sits outside the Little Rock house he rents from landlord Imran Bohra on Tuesday. Bohra's business practices led to a consumer protection lawsuit from the Arkansas Attorney General's Office in 2019 that settled this year. Knowingly renting out units with city code violations would result in a financial penalty, but Bohra's lawyer said the code violations at Lauderdale's house did not exist at the time it was leased. (Tess Vrbin/Arkansas Advocate)
The house on West 24th Street in Little Rock where Terry Lauderdale and his two roommates live has had its problems since they moved in almost a year ago, he said.
What caused the most distress for the tenants and caught the attention of city code inspectors was exposed electrical wiring.
“A puppy bit into one of them and it electrocuted him,” Lauderdale said. “We called two or three lawyers [seeking relief] from the stress and the lack of companionship from that dog.”
Lauderdale holds electricians, not landlord Imran Bohra, responsible for the pit bull mix’s death, and he still has the dog’s two siblings as well as a poodle, he said.
The house is the fifth or sixth dwelling Lauderdale has rented from Central Arkansas landlord Imran Bohra in almost six years, he said. He is aware that Bohra “doesn’t have a good reputation as a landlord” but does not have the means to rent another landlord’s property, he said.
In June, city code inspectors cited Entropy Systems Inc., of which Bohra is president, for “life and safety violations” at the 24th Street house. None of the violations had been repaired at a re-inspection in July, according to city documents obtained via an open records request.
Other poor conditions cited in the documents include dysfunctional faucets, damaged floors and ceilings and windows that did not keep out the weather.
The life and safety violations were resolved early this week, Bohra’s attorney Edward Adcock said Wednesday at Little Rock environmental court. Non-life and safety violations still exist but should be repaired by February, when Bohra is expected to appear in court again, Adcock said.
“This is a house with which both the city and the landowner have been very frustrated, and we’re working it out as best we can,” Adcock said in an interview.
Living conditions at Bohra’s properties have attracted legal and media attention for years. Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office sued Bohra and Entropy in 2019, claiming they knowingly rented out units that violated city code.
Bohra owned 150 properties in Pulaski County at the time of the lawsuit and rented them out to low-income tenants, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.
“Leasing properties with known code violations affecting the life and safety of tenants before abating the code violation violates the public policy of leasing properties that conform to minimum housing standards,” according to the Pulaski County Circuit Court documents that settled the Entropy lawsuit Sept. 27 of this year.
This violates the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, the suit alleged.
The suit resulted from an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette investigation earlier in 2019 that revealed a documented history of poor living conditions and quick evictions at Bohra’s properties.
Breaking the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act results in a Class A misdemeanor, and the attorney general may seek an injunction against the offender, according to state statute. Violators of this law can be fined up to $10,000 per violation.
Life and safety violations in rental housing include a lack of or malfunctioning electricity, hot and cold running water, plumbing system and heating and cooling system, among other things, according to court documents.
These minimum standards did not become required by state law until 2021.
Bohra and Entropy Systems will be fined $20,000 if they are found to have knowingly rented out units with outstanding code violations, according to the settlement. As part of the settlement, the defendants also were to “voluntarily make a contribution to the Arkansas Attorney General’s Consumer Education and Enforcement Fund … in the amount of $5,000.”
Bohra and Entropy admitted no wrongdoing or liability, according to the settlement.
Amanda Priest, a spokeswoman for Rutledge, said earlier this month that the Attorney General’s office has received no complaints about health and safety risks in properties owned or managed by Entropy or Bohra since the lawsuit settled.
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However, the city of Little Rock sent the Arkansas Advocate complaints against two properties owned and managed by Bohra — one on 16th Street and the one where Lauderdale lives — in response to an Arkansas Freedom of Information Act request this month.
Bohra pleaded guilty to life and safety violations at both houses Aug. 10 in city environmental court. The problems at the 16th Street house, which included damage to ceilings and electrical fixtures, were resolved by Nov. 14 and the case was dismissed, according to the documents.
Lauderdale said he believes Bohra “is doing the best he can” to manage the many properties he rents out.
Rutledge’s office is aware of the ongoing case against the 24th Street house.
The office’s settlement with Bohra and Entropy “provides explicit parameters for certain business practices,” and the office “will continue to investigate all complaints to ensure compliance with the judgment,” Priest said Thursday.
The financial penalty in the settlement only applies if Bohra knew life and safety violations existed before renting out a unit, and the problems in the 24th Street house arose after the tenants moved in, Adcock said.
“When we rented that house, it was fine,” he said.
Similar lawsuit, code violations pending
Rutledge sued a Little Rock apartment complex and its parent company in August of this year, claiming they also violated the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
City code violations at Big Country Chateau, a 151-unit complex on Colonel Glenn Road, are still going through city environmental court. Rutledge’s suit claims the complex and its New Jersey-based owner Apex Equity Group also rented out units knowing they were unsafe to live in.
Big Country Chateau pleaded no contest to the code violations in October. As of November, the citations were still unresolved because management had been unable to access several units and was considering filing civil evictions in order to access them, said Sylvester Smith, the attorney representing the complex.
Big Country Chateau almost lost access to water and electricity Sept. 1 of this year because complex managers did not pay the utility bills despite promising tenants it 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.
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.
Tenants have said that management often has not responded to maintenance requests and “scrambled” to do so after the nonpayment of utility bills became public knowledge in July.
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