Renters of troubled Little Rock house will be required to appear in city court

Landlord’s attorney contradicts tenants’ claims; tenants appear to have left the property

By: - February 10, 2023 7:00 pm

Tenant Terry Lauderdale at his rented home on West 24th Street in Little Rock in January 2023. (John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)

The three tenants of a house on West 24th Street in Little Rock will be subpoenaed by their landlord in an ongoing dispute over living conditions, the landlord’s attorney told a judge in Little Rock environmental court on Thursday.

City code inspectors cited landlord Imran Bohra and his company, Entropy Systems Inc., in June and July for violations at the house, including nonworking drains and faucets, a broken water heater and holes in the walls and ceilings.

Terry Lauderdale, one of the tenants, told the Arkansas Advocate in January that the unit they had lived in for about a year was no longer livable, so they had moved into a camper in the backyard and were hoping to move as soon as they could afford it.

Lauderdale said some of the house’s problems existed when he and his roommates moved in. Edward Adcock, Bohra’s attorney, said the opposite at Thursday’s hearing, saying the house “was in good shape” when the tenants moved in.

“The tenants are tearing [the house] up faster than we can fix it,” Adcock told District Judge Mark Leverett. “…There are times when we fix something and come back the next day and it’s broken again.”

Lauderdale previously told the Advocate that Bohra has sometimes sent maintenance workers to make repairs, but the repairs do not last. Additionally, several doors in the house are not attached to the frames, and the water heater is not vented because the pipe is the wrong size, he said.

The complaint filed by city code inspectors noted the damaged walls and ceilings, poorly functioning plumbing and exposed electrical wiring. Adcock said the tenants have torn out the wiring within hours of it being fixed by an electrician; Lauderdale said the exposed wiring has never been fixed, not even after it killed one of his dogs last year.

Workers sent to repair the house have been falsely accused of stealing the tenants’ property, even though all three tenants have been absent from the house for several days, Adcock said.

“Unless we’re able to get in there and remove things and clear it out for work, there is no way we can fix the house,” he said. “It just can’t be logistically done.”

He said the tenants should be required to appear in court so they can understand the repair workers’ right to be on the property. Leverett agreed to the proposed subpoena, and he and Adcock set the court appearance for March 23.

Adcock declined an interview after Thursday’s hearing. Lauderdale could not be reached for comment.

Past litigation

Lauderdale said he planned to file a complaint against Bohra with Attorney General Tim Griffin’s office. The complaint has not been filed as of Friday, said Jeff LeMaster, a spokesman for Griffin.

Adcock said Bohra is cooperating with the attorney general’s office to try to get the house up to code, citing a state lawsuit against Bohra that was settled in September 2022.

The previous attorney general, Leslie Rutledge, sued Bohra and Entropy in 2019, claiming they knowingly rented out units that violated city code. 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 many of Bohra’s rental units.

Bohra owned 150 properties in Pulaski County at the time of the lawsuit and leased them out to low-income tenants, the Democrat-Gazette reported.

The defendants admitted no wrongdoing or liability, according to the settlement.

“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,” court documents state.

This violates the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, Rutledge’s lawsuit alleged.

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.

The settlement dictates that Bohra and Entropy Systems will be fined $20,000 if they are found to have knowingly rented out units with outstanding code violations. The fine only applies if Bohra knew life and safety violations existed before renting out a unit, which Adcock has repeatedly said was not the case with the 24th Street house.

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 law. Violators can be fined up to $10,000 per violation.

Griffin said in a statement last month that he would take Bohra back to court if necessary.

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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.