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story.lead_photo.caption Ely Frankley encourages protesters to chant during a tenants rally in September outside the Spanish Valley Apartments in Little Rock. On Thursday night, Frankley was served with an eviction lawsuit. ( Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Thomas Metthe)

Ely Frankley got home at 4 p.m. one day in August. The notice on her door demanded that she move out by 7 p.m.

In three hours, she thought, the sheriff would arrive and the locks would be changed.

She worried that she didn’t have time to get all of her belongings out. She feared that the Illinois-based company that owns Little Rock’s Spanish Valley Apartments would take the items she had to leave behind.

Including Spanish Valley, AMG Realty Group owns and manages more than 1,000 apartment units across Little Rock and North Little Rock. Most of the residents have low incomes.

The company also owns or manages more than 4,200 units across nine states and specializes in acquiring property that “can be bought significantly below its intrinsic value,” according to its website.

Officials in at least two other states and another Arkansas city have taken actions against AMG on behalf of residents, public records show.

In Pulaski County, AMG properties have racked up hundreds of housing code violations in the past year, yet the city’s top code enforcement officials say they have a “good relationship” with the company.

Tenants have a different view. Current and former residents of central Arkansas AMG properties told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that on-site managers routinely ignore maintenance requests and retaliate against those who complain.

Residents of Spanish Valley also report getting seemingly random eviction notices, even when they’re paid up on rent.

Frankley, who worked nights and early morning shifts as a cook at IHOP, has found eviction notices on her door many times. Each time, the apartment manager told her to ignore them.

But this time, with only three hours’ notice, the prospect of losing her belongings, having to deal with the manager and possibly being escorted out by the police felt overwhelming.

“I just wanted to get away, out of town, and I just didn’t want to have to go through this ever again, so it forced me to like quit my job, sell my belongings in a shorter time because I was under a false pretense that I would have to leave,” Frankley said.

Frankley soon learned that the eviction notice hadn’t been filed with the courts and so was not enforceable. So she didn’t move out. But she kept a copy of her lease and other important papers in her backpack because she was afraid apartment management might steal them.

“I’m still walking around with a book bag as if I’m homeless,” she said at the time.

An AMG spokesman told the Democrat-Gazette that the lease in Frankley’s pack was fraudulent.

On Thursday, after 9 p.m., Frankley was served with an official eviction lawsuit. The 24-page suit claims that she failed to pay rent in October and has refused to vacate her apartment, and demands that she move out and pay $570 in rent and late fees.

In recent months, Frankley and dozens of AMG tenants have staged public protests complaining about harassment by apartment management, subpar living conditions and unresolved maintenance issues.

Former AMG employees say management devised a scheme to pass code enforcement inspections without actually making repairs.

“It has never been and never will be a company policy to instruct employees to cover up problems,” AMG founder and managing partner Adam Glickman told the newspaper. “Employees are instructed to repair all issues both promptly and efficiently.”

“The properties that we purchase generally require improvement and repair,” Glickman said in an emailed statement. “In parallel with the business goals of our company is to provide a better way of life for the residents that live in our communities.”

Online mentions of the company’s Arkansas properties disappeared after Glickman received a faxed list of questions from the newspaper that included one about an advertised pool at Spanish Valley. No such pool exists, according to residents and property records.

In early November, the company’s website no longer contained mentions of any of its properties.

Instead, the site’s home page touts its investment strategy, saying it “focuses on acquiring overlooked and undervalued multifamily assets with the potential to add value via a repositioning of the property, including operationally, structurally or financially.

“The company prides itself on providing best-in-class living communities to our valued residents and superior investment returns to investors,” the site adds.

BECOMING ‘UNLIVABLE’

Before Youlonda Jackson moved into Colonial Parc Apartments in Little Rock in September 2018, she’d had trouble finding a place to stay because a previous eviction lowered her rental credit score.

After she moved in, she started getting sick more often because of the cigarette smoke that drifted upstairs from her puffing neighbors. Her front door squeaked open on its own if it wasn’t closed just so, and twice she reported to Little Rock police that someone had broken into her apartment, documents show.

The water in her faucets started to run brown and contained “solid debris,” her air conditioner quit working, and one day a pipe burst, spewing raw sewage across the yard.

She complained nearly daily, but her calls often went unanswered, she said, and the on-site property manager told her she wasn’t being patient enough.

A call Jackson made to RBG Properties, a Missouri company that owned the complex at the time, during regular business hours went unanswered. That call was made in the presence of a Democrat-Gazette reporter.

“How much more patience do I need?” she asked during a February interview.

AMG Realty bought the 239-household complex in May for $11.5 million.

Jackson said she was unaware of the sale until she tried to turn in her rent money at the RBG Little Rock office and no one was there.

According to Glickman, AMG plans to sue RBG over the seller’s failure to inform the Illinois company about problems with the property before purchase. That suit had not been filed in Pulaski County or Arkansas as of Friday.

A RBG representative asked the newspaper during a phone call to submit questions via email, but no one responded to the email.

The change in ownership at Colonial Parc didn’t resolve Jackson’s maintenance issues, she said. Her apartment remained without air conditioning, and the apartment grounds were still littered with garbage a few months after the sale.

Residents at other AMG properties in Little Rock complexes complained of similar problems.

A tenant at the Rosewood Apartments, who didn’t want to be named because she feared retaliation, said in August that there had been a septic tank leaking for weeks and that there are security problems at the complex.

“It’s getting to the point where it’s unlivable,” she said.

Donna Keson, a Spanish Valley resident, said her lights flicker, the drain in her sink stinks of mold, and the two-bedroom apartment she shares with her daughter is infested with roaches that they can’t seem to get rid of.

Kimberli Leon, another Spanish Valley tenant, said she has to turn on her sink with pliers because the faucet handles are missing.

Another Spanish Valley tenant showed photos of rats that he said he’d caught in his apartment.

Each of more than a dozen residents interviewed said they’d repeatedly called maintenance or reported problems to property managers, to no avail.

Two former AMG employees from Colonial Parc and Rosewood confirmed the problems reported by tenants and said the maintenance crew is routinely understaffed, which makes fixing problems in a timely fashion nearly impossible.

Glickman said there is sometimes “higher than preferred” employee turnover, especially when the company purchases a complex, and it takes time to replace employees.

‘HOW INSANE’

Since 2018, AMG properties in Pulaski County have racked up more than 1,000 code enforcement violations, although the company did not own all of the properties for all of that period, records show.

As of November, AMG owned or managed at least six properties with 935 apartments in Little Rock and one property with 92 apartments in North Little Rock, according to public records.

In the past year, code inspectors found as many as 16 violations in one apartment. They cited the company’s apartments for 1,162 violations.

About 35% of the total violations — more than 400 — were for life-safety issues, such as exposed wiring or faulty smoke alarms that could endanger a tenant’s life. Those violations are supposed to be addressed more quickly than other types of code violations.

“Unfortunately, this process does take time, and we are working as quickly and as diligently as possible to implement,” Glickman said in an email regarding unmade repairs at the company’s properties.

Two Little Rock code enforcement officials said Spanish Valley is rapidly improving and asked if the newspaper had visited the complex recently.

The Democrat-Gazette could not independently verify conditions at Spanish Valley because the property manager threatened to have a reporter arrested for criminal trespass even though a tenant had invited the reporter to her apartment for an interview.

Little Rock police banned the reporter from the property in August.

Ken Richardson, the city director for Ward 2, visited Jackson’s apartment at Colonial Parc shortly before she moved out at the end of her one-year lease in August.

Jackson’s former home, along with most of the AMGowned Little Rock properties, are in the ward that Richardson represents.

The summer heat made it impossible to spend much time in Jackson’s apartment, Richardson said. Two HVAC experts brought in by Richardson said the way her air-conditioning unit was attached could cause plumbing problems.

Richardson said he wasn’t happy with his August meeting with Glickman.

“He unbelievably said that she probably could have tampered with [the air conditioner] or broken it with the hopes of getting a brand new unit out there,” Richardson said. “And I asked him, ‘Do you realize how insane that sounds?’”

Glickman disputed Richardson’s account.

“This was the thought of Mr. Richardson, not mine,” Glickman said in response to a question about why he’d thought Jackson broke her own air conditioner.

But a former AMG employee who was also in the meeting confirmed the city director’s description of the conversation.

‘TROUBLING PATTERN’

Concerns over tenant safety led Ohio officials to sue AMG, the Hot Springs Housing Authority to stop sending housing voucher business to one of its complexes and Tulsa officials to close an entire complex.

In Columbus, Ohio, city attorney Zach Klein filed what his office touted as the “largest public nuisance lawsuit” in the city’s history. The filing listed Glickman and cited three complexes — Mayfair Apartments, Hartford on the Lake and Fitzroy Apartments — with 802 total units, according to a news release from the attorney’s office.

Before Klein filed suit in September 2018, the city had imposed $1,000 daily fines, allowed under a 2014 law that penalizes “negligent property owners.”

AMG, the first company to receive such a sanction, racked up at least $75,000 in fines. Previously, “the mere threat” of fines had compelled compliance, according to the news release.

“Filing a lawsuit of this size and scope became necessary, because of the property owner’s troubling pattern of ignoring the city’s orders to fix a series of code violations,” Klein said in the news release.

“We already have evidence of harm and injury to our residents, so it’s imperative for us to get every one of AMG’s apartments under court order to force them to take their tenants’ safety seriously,” the city attorney said.

Code violations, which topped 150, included water damage, mold growth, clogged drains and light fixtures hanging from wires, according to court filings.

The city settled the case in December for a $50,000 administrative fee and AMG’s promise to keep apartments in compliance with city code.

The city also required AMG to, among other things, hire private security guards, provide daily litter pickup and establish on-site offices at each complex.

Klein did not respond to emails and calls requesting comment.

In Hot Springs, AMG bought the Polo Run Apartments in February 2017 for $2.5 million.

The city closed part of the complex in June 2018, and 11 residents were forced out because of code violations and unsafe conditions, newspaper archives show.

That same month, Glickman faced 21 charges for violations of the Hot Springs property maintenance code in Garland County District Court, according to court records. Each citation was for a single apartment or common area, and many listed several violations.

Glickman pleaded no contest to all charges, and the court levied $5,000 in fines, said Terry Askew, the Hot Springs deputy city attorney.

Richard Herrington, the executive director of the Hot Springs Housing Authority, said after the city pointed out “habitability problems,” with the then-AMG-owned property, the agency did a few inspections and decided to yank all of its housing vouchers for the Polo Run Apartments.

He said the agency is still waiting to hear from city inspectors that the apartments are back up to code before it starts allowing tenants to use Section 8 vouchers to rent units at Polo Run again. The federal Section 8 program allows people to rent privately-owned apartments, with the tenants paying 30% of their monthly incomes on rent and the government subsidizing the rest.

“The thing is making sure that the residents live in a safe place and not to have them live in something that’s unsafe, so when that’s done, of course, we’ll be glad to have them,” he said of reinstating vouchers at Polo Run.

The Fulton Plaza apartment complex in Tulsa had several Section 8 vouchers, which was one of the reasons Karen Gilbert decided to step in when she heard on the news in January 2018 that residents didn’t have any heat in the middle of winter.

Gilbert, a City Council member at the time, and representatives from an Oklahoma congressman’s office took a tour of the complex, she said.

“There was no quality of life there, and the property manager refused to fix the heat,” Gilbert said.

She said she had several conversations with the on-site property manager, but her calls to Glickman weren’t returned.

So, while residents used their ovens to heat their apartments (a solution Jackson said she used in Little Rock), the city required AMG to hire off-duty firefighters to monitor the property in case of fire.

As time passed, the heaters still weren’t fixed, so Tulsa officials condemned the property at the end of January, and residents had to move out. All of the residents moved into other AMG properties and didn’t have to pay security deposits, Gilbert said.

“It’s really tough when you have these apartment complexes because the owners, they don’t live in the state,” Gilbert said. “They don’t know what’s happening on their own property. It’s very frustrating, locally, seeing these apartment complexes just deteriorate and nobody really caring.”

‘MISERY MERCHANTS’

Out-of-state landlords who provide low-quality housing create a problem in many states, but especially in Arkansas, where renter protections are weak, housing advocates said.

Richardson referred to AMG and those like it as “misery merchants,” or people with a lot who take advantage of those with a little.

“It’s a sad state of affairs when we allow out-of-state owners to take advantage of our citizens and not address the needs of our citizens,” he said. “The conditions of some of these apartments are deplorable. My touring of them didn’t necessarily give me a sense of safety, security, pride or even value.

“I just don’t think they’re looking at this as a human capital issue. … They seem to be more concerned with keeping the units filled and occupied than they are with the condition of the units that they’re renting out.”

Many tenants, including Frankley, told the newspaper that they’d received eviction notices even when their rents were paid in full. The company doesn’t provide receipts, tenants said.

Glickman said all evictions go through the court system, and all residents who go to the office to pay rent get receipts.

Lev Miller, a company representative, said in a statement that some tenants owe AMG thousands of dollars in rent.

But the Democrat-Gazette found no court documents in Pulaski County indicating eviction proceedings against tenants who provided copies of eviction notices that they said had been posted on their doors.

Neil Sealy, an organizer with Arkansas Renters United, said his group often hears reports of similar problems with out-of-state owners. The grassroots group advocates on behalf of tenants across the state.

Richardson said he’d like to see protections in place for tenants who complain about problems at apartments, and give them the right to withhold rent until repairs are made.

Part of the problem, he said, is that Arkansas doesn’t have a law that sets minimum standards for rental housing. Arkansas is the only state that does not have a so-called implied warranty of habitability law.

“The city needs to be more proactive,” Richardson said “These units cannot be rented out until they are habitable, until they are examined, assessed by code enforcement and deemed to be places that are livable.”

Little Rock’s Board of Directors amended its rental inspection ordinance in September to allow, among other things, fewer inspections and spot inspections rather than checks of every apartment in a complex.

Two top code enforcement officials said they’re excited about these changes, which will make their work simpler.

Terry Hall, the chief code enforcement officer for the city, and Ed Garland, the code enforcement manager, said in a joint interview that they’d toured several AMG properties, including Spanish Valley, and have seen improvements.

“Spanish Valley is one of our most well-managed properties in the city,” Garland said.

AMG residents often complain about black mold in their apartments, but Garland and Hall said most residents who say they have mold confuse it with mildew, which is rarely black.

Code enforcement officers aren’t qualified to determine whether a substance is mold, so after repeated tenant complaints, it contracted with a private company that officers can call upon to identify mold.

But in the past year, no officer has ever called the company to report mold, Garland said.

Garland also said the Code Enforcement Department has an “excellent” relationship with Glickman and spoke with him shortly before his interview with the newspaper.

“We have a really good relationship,” Garland said. “Mr. Glickman is an affordable housing managing partner.”

‘DELICATE SITUATIONS’

Most of the AMG properties in Pulaski County are homes for residents who get federal rent subsidies. At least 128 of the tenants have Section 8 vouchers through the city’s housing authority.

Jeannie Owens, director of the housing choice voucher program at the Metropolitan Housing Alliance, said she hadn’t heard about problems at AMG properties before the newspaper contacted her and Anthony Snell, who was then interim executive director.

An in-house inspector examines the agency’s voucher apartments before residents move in, every two years thereafter and anytime “special inspections” are requested, Owens said.

Landlords have 10 days to fix non-life-threatening violations — although the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development allows 30 days — and 24 hours to fix life-threatening problems unless there are extenuating circumstances such as bad weather or issues that are out of the landlord’s control, Owens said.

The agency does not have any “banned landlords,” who aren’t allowed to rent to residents with Section 8 vouchers, she said.

The agency works with several out-of-state owners, most of whom are good landlords, said Snell, who was hired permanently as the authority’s top administrator in October.

“There are unscrupulous individuals out there that take advantage of these people [tenants] in their situations sometimes,” Snell said. “We do our best to provide them with guidance and resources that can help them in case they run into any particular situation, but you know we can’t monitor the day-to-day operations of a given property.

“The community, has to do a better job to provide the support to these tenants that find themselves in these very delicate situations.”

‘YOU’LL GET IN TROUBLE’

Two former AMG property managers said they were required to send step-by-step pictures of their daily work through WhatsApp, an encrypted phone application, to Glickman.

Some of that work included stomping down floorboards that weren’t properly installed or watching one of the few maintenance workers temporarily hook up the air conditioning to an apartment while code enforcement or potential renters visited, said Tara Crow, who formerly worked at Rosewood Apartments.

Glickman “his thing is pull stuff from other apartments — fix stuff enough to get people in,” she said.

Hall and Garland, the Little Rock code officials, scoffed when asked if it was possible to cover up problems described by the former property managers and whether they’d encountered similar situations.

“Let’s put it this way: if a floor is warped, it’s warped. You can’t stomp it down,” Hall said.

Crow said she went to work at Rosewood at the start of this year after a company representative cold-called her and asked if she’d like to manage the apartment. But the hours were long and training was scant, and she left after three months, she said.

“They [AMG] fired the second maintenance man, and they just never hired me another one, but I was required to rent the apartments,” Crow said. “So instead of putting people in tore-up apartments, me and my husband were working on the apartments after I got off work.”

One night she cleaned black paint off the floor of an apartment and repaired broken floor tiles in another. The supplies for the repairs came out of her pocket because AMG refused to buy them, she said.

Even though she logged overtime hours, she was paid for only eight hours of work per day, she said.

Glickman said no AMG employees work overtime.

Sheree Jones, who worked at the Colonial Parc Apartments in July, said AMG hired her in a similar way. When she arrived at the property, she quickly realized that the apartment conditions were bad, and there was little job training.

“You know how you walk into somewhere and you’re like ‘Oh, this was a big mistake?’ That’s kind of how I felt walking in,” she said.

Jones sat in on the meeting between Glickman and Richardson. During the discussion about the air conditioning in Jackson’s apartment, Glickman asked her whether “these type of people” often break things in their own apartments.

“I was like, ‘I personally have never had somebody break something on purpose, but I have had them lie and exaggerate things to get stuff fixed,’” she said.

The next day, the air conditioning in her office stopped working, and Glickman told her to move her desk to a spot where there weren’t enough outlets for her to plug in her computer.

The day after that, she was fired.

Jones said she thinks the conversation with Richardson and Glickman, in addition to asking for repairs to things such as broken windows, mailboxes and kitchen cabinets, led to her termination.

Like Crow, she also had an understaffed maintenance crew, and she said Glickman refused to buy maintenance materials.

“I didn’t know that you’re not supposed to ask stuff like that,” she said. “You’re just supposed to deal with it and not bring it to his attention, or you’ll get in trouble.”

Glickman said Jones was fired because she wasn’t “the right fit” for the company.

TAKING A STAND

Frankley and about 20 other people, most of them residents at Spanish Valley Apartments, stood outside the complex on Sept. 22. They clutched brightly colored posters with handwritten messages demanding change — repairs, an end to harassment — and for legislation establishing minimum standards for rental housing in Arkansas.

“If you’ve had an injustice happen to you at Spanish Valley, come out,” Frankley shouted into a megaphone.

In a statement issued after the protest, Miller said AMG is trying to make repairs.

“In summary, we feel those complaining are, for the most part, those who owe rent and have no intention to pay and are using the rally to distract from their responsibilities,” the statement read.

The September rally was the third time in a handful of weeks that Spanish Valley residents had protested living conditions. The first occurred earlier that month in Washington, D.C., when Frankley went to the nation’s capital to talk with Arkansas’ congressional delegation about the problems.

Several residents later rode in a van to Memphis with Arkansas Renters United organizers. There they stood outside the Graceland Hotel where the Arkansas Realtors Association held its annual conference. The Realtors group has opposed implied warranty of habitability bills in several legislative sessions, including in 2019 when Rep. Jimmie Gazaway, R-Paragould, proposed House Bill 1410.

Rickey Tillman, 51, returned to Spanish Valley for the September protest just days after he had moved out because of problems in his apartment.

“We’ve got to do something,” he said, shaking his head.

Photo by Thomas Metthe
Kimberli Leon (left) protests poor housing conditions at the Spanish Valley Apartments in Little Rock during a September rally of tenants and tenant-rights organizers. Leon said she has to turn on the water at her sink with pliers because the faucet handles are missing.
Photo by Ginny Monk
Youlonda Jackson stands outside Colonial Parc Apartments in Little Rock, where she moved in September 2018. She had a list of complaints for management that she said went unaddressed by the previous owners. The complex was bought by AMG Realty Group in May, but Jackson said the problems remain.
AMG properties in Pulaski County
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