AR Briefly

Little Rock housing complex facing AG lawsuit pleads no contest to city code violations

By: - October 3, 2022 4:57 pm

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

Management of a housing complex facing a state lawsuit pleaded no contest to several city code violations Monday in Little Rock environmental court.

Sylvester Smith, the attorney representing Big Country Chateau, said about 90% of the “life and safety issues” at the complex have been resolved.

The issues include mold, broken windows, scattered garbage and other “appalling” living conditions, according to a Pulaski County Circuit Court lawsuit Attorney General Leslie Rutledge filed in August against Big Country Chateau and its New Jersey-based parent company, Apex Equity Group.

Smith requested more time for Big Country Chateau, a 151-unit complex on Colonel Glenn Road, to fix problems at about 10 units where tenants have not allowed management inside.

“We’re trying to work with them to amicably resolve that, but we may have to go up the hill to circuit court to get entry to some of these places,” Smith said.

The case will return to city court Nov. 14.

Little Rock has a housing code enforcement system to ensure safe and healthy living conditions. The city can issue code violations for a variety of problems including plumbing and electrical malfunctions.

Rutledge’s lawsuit 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.

Big Country Chateau tenants almost lost water and electricity Sept. 1 because complex managers did not pay the utility bill 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.

Breaking this law results in 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.

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