Or­der to pay le­gal fees pre­ma­ture, LR ar­gues

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - ARKANSAS - JOHN LYNCH

The city of Lit­tle Rock, ap­peal­ing a court or­der to pay $484,744 to an apart­ment com­plex and four ten­ants over the way city in­spec­tors forcibly evac­u­ated the prop­erty, says it shouldn’t have to pay their le­gal fees — an ad­di­tional $213,081 — un­til the ap­peal is de­cided.

In De­cem­ber 2015 — 10 days be­fore Christ­mas — the fire chief pro­nounced the Alexan­der Apart­ments com­plex un­safe to oc­cupy. The de­ci­sion came af­ter months of back-and-forth be­tween the apart­ment own­ers and code in­spec­tors and fire mar­shals over the con­di­tion of the 7.4-acre prop­erty at 6310

Colonel Glenn Road, a dis­pute that be­gan al­most from the day the cur­rent own­ers pur­chased the prop­erty in 2014.

Ten­ants were given a week to leave. City of­fi­cials jus­ti­fied the apart­ments’ clo­sure by cit­ing fire and safety vi­o­la­tions found dur­ing in­spec­tions at the com­plex just west of Colonel Glenn Road and Uni­ver­sity Av­enue. City in­spec­tors and the com­plex’s own­ers had been bat­tling in the city’s en­vi­ron­men­tal court be­fore the shut­down.

The apart­ment own­ers dis­puted the city’s de­pic­tion of the 141-unit com­plex, say­ing the prop­erty was al­ways hab­it­able, with ren­o­va­tions on­go­ing. They had pur­chased the com­plex in 2014 for $2.85 mil­lion. The pre­vi­ous owner had paid about $4 mil­lion.

Pu­laski County Cir­cuit Judge Alice Gray blocked the clo­sure or­der about a week af­ter res­i­dents were told to leave, when a civil-rights law­suit by the apart­ment own­ers, later joined by some ten­ants, chal­lenged the city’s or­der to va­cate.

Au­thor­i­ties re­ported that the 17-build­ing com­plex was teem­ing with health and safety vi­o­la­tions like mold, ex­posed wiring, bro­ken smoke de­tec­tors, struc­tural flaws brought on by wa­ter leaks, and ex­posed sewage. A dead cat was found in one va­cant apart­ment.

The apart­ment own­ers and ten­ants ar­gued that city of­fi­cials ap­par­ently con­sid­ered none of those is­sues dan­ger­ous enough to re­quire an im­me­di­ate evac­u­a­tion.

The or­der was based on a week-old in­spec­tion af­ter which ten­ants were given a week to find new lodg­ing. The res­i­dents had only three busi­ness days be­fore Christ­mas to find a new place to live and were not pro­vided any as­sis­tance by the city.

The clo­sure led ten­ants in 58 of the 90 avail­able units to move out. Some of the ten­ants had lived there for more than 15 years, the own­ers re­ported.

Gray ruled against Lit­tle Rock, find­ing that the city’s evac­u­a­tion pro­ce­dure was un­con­sti­tu­tional be­cause the process did not pro­vide any way for own­ers or ten­ants to con­test the va­cate com­mand, be­fore or af­ter it was is­sued.

This Au­gust, she or­dered Lit­tle Rock to pay $432,744 in dam­ages to the apart­ment own­ers, rep­re­sented by manag­ing part­ner Ja­son Bolden, and $52,000 to the ten­ants — $25,000 to Melody Branch, $10,000 to In­gram Mur­phy, $8,500 to Linda Wheeler and $8,500 to Car­olyn Ford. The city launched its ap­peal to the Ar­kan­sas Supreme Court in Septem­ber.

City of­fi­cials es­ti­mated that Alexan­der at most lost $143,976, while the apart­ment com­plex con­tended its lost in­come ranged from $414,759 to $589,692.

Since the own­ers and ten­ants pre­vailed, which in­cluded a rul­ing that the state Fire Preven­tion Code is un­con­sti­tu­tional, they are el­i­gi­ble un­der the Ar­kan­sas Civil Rights Act to have the city pay their le­gal costs as well.

That would be $154,112 for the apart­ments, with $141,138 in le­gal fees, $4,391 in ex­penses and an ad­di­tional $8,583 for two ex­pert wit­nesses, Alexan­der at­tor­ney Bill Shan­non re­ported in re­cent court fil­ings.

The ten­ants’ lawyers are ask­ing for $58,969, which would be di­vided among the UALR Bowen Le­gal Clinic, $23,254; the Cen­ter for Ar­kan­sas Le­gal Ser­vices, $18,750; and Le­gal Aid of Ar­kan­sas, $16,965.

In re­sponse, the city’s at­tor­neys call the re­quests ex­ces­sive and have asked the judge to wait un­til the ap­peal is con­cluded be­fore mak­ing a de­ci­sion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.