Tenants of troubled Little Rock apartment complex turn to city for help
Central Arkansas renters are looking to city and state government leaders for help with unsafe living conditions.
Tenants at the Big Country Chateau Apartments in Little Rock say they’ve been dealing with crime, mold and a lack of repairs for years, while their New Jersey-based landlord, APEX Big Country AR LLC, fails to address their concerns. A group of residents voiced their frustrations in a rally at Little Rock City Hall on Thursday.
The latest in a slew of issues with the 151-unit apartment complex came to a head this week when residents were informed by electric utility Entergy Arkansas that their service would be shut off on Feb. 6. Residents also face a suspension of service by Central Arkansas Water in March. The utility previously threatened a shutoff last August.
Residents say they pay their landlord directly for water, gas and electricity bills— money which apparently isn’t passed on to utility companies. Attorney General Tim Griffin, who met briefly with renters Thursday, said he’s brokered a deal with Entergy Arkansas to delay shutting off power until his office has time to take further legal action.
“What I ask is give us time to let the legal process play out. Entergy has been great to work with… I don’t expect any surprises, I expect them to continue to work with us. So if we need more time, we’ll ask for more time,” Griffin said.
Tenants also voiced frustration at a perceived lack of outreach from city officials. Absent any official communication, rumors have circulated that the city’s code enforcement team is planning to shut down the apartment complex altogether by Feb. 1.
Norma Lee Huffman, a three-year resident of Big Country Chateau, made an emotional plea to Griffin.
“This is ridiculous. There are so many families affected by this. Me, personally, me and my son are affected by this,” she said. “We will be homeless, everybody in this complex will be homeless. And it’s not fair.”
Griffin and Little Rock City Attorney Tom Carpenter both said they’re unaware of any plans for a forcible eviction. Carpenter responded to residents’ concerns, saying the city must complete a thorough inspection of every apartment before they can move forward with litigation.
“My staff has to prove these are real problems. If we come in and we find a really dangerous situation, we can take action then,” Carpenter said. “The history that we’ve been given that’s been presented in court is that it’s not [dangerous], and what we’re trying to do in my office is prove exactly what the condition is.
“We can’t do anything without the facts. Right now, the facts I have don’t support doing anything.”
“We’re the ones suffering here. You guys have places to live, you guys don’t have to worry about being homeless with kids,” Huffman replied, asking if Carpenter would let residents live at his house should they be forced to relocate. He promised Huffman the city would look into providing support for tenants should that happen.
City officials say a full inspection of the apartment complex will happen sometime before a court date on Feb. 2. Carpenter says that will involve the city’s fire, Housing and Neighborhood Programs and Planning and Development departments.
The apartment complex’s owners currently face legal action on two fronts: an ongoing case in Little Rock’s environmental court focusing on health and safety violations, and a consumer protection case brought by the attorney general’s office regarding the company’s failure to pay utility bills.
Autumn Rains with the group Arkansas Renters United says tenants are relying on the city to fight the owners in court.
“These are 60-plus families who’ve paid rent on time, have lived at this property for years on end… and there’s just not a lot that they can do from their individual perspective to take these owners to court,” Rains said. “We’re really optimistic with the moves that the attorney general has made, and we’d like to see progress on the lawsuit as well.”
But the state’s landlord-tenant laws make it more difficult to prove the tenants’ case, according to Carpenter.
“Arkansas has a provision in its constitution: the right of property is above all other rights. In this case, the owner is the one that’s protected… landlords are heavily protected over tenants in Arkansas,” Carpenter said.
Deloise McDaniel, who’s lived at Big Country Chateau since 2019, said Arkansas’ loose regulations on rental housing are partly to blame for the situation in which she and her fellow tenants find themselves.
“It probably is, because the city hasn’t followed up with enforcing their codes that they said were in violation… as soon as the cameras shut off, so did they,” McDaniel said.
A letter, presented by several tenants to Carpenter on Thursday, calls on the City of Little Rock to take the lead on finding permanent housing for all of the complex’s residents.