State officials are pursuing a new way to hold accountable landlords who endanger residents with unsafe and unsanitary living conditions, starting with the former owner of the Clay Arsenal Renaissance Apartments in the North End of Hartford.
Attorney General William Tong announced Wednesday that the state has launched a civil investigation into Emmanuel Ku of New York, who owned Clay Arsenal and 25 other properties across Hartford until he sold them in December 2018.
“This guy made millions of dollars off of not honoring his obligations to these residents,” Tong said, standing outside the front entrance of the apartment building, “and we want that money back and we want damages to be paid to the residents for the harm and the suffering they went through for those many years.”
Tong said in what seems to be a first, the state will bring an action in a public housing case under the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act, or CUTPA, which has been used in private housing actions.
Clay Arsenal is an affordable housing complex that’s partially subsidized with taxpayer money. People lived in units with vouchers from Section 8 Housing Choice, a federal assistance program for low-income residents under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
State officials will look to see whether Ku committed actions that violate CUTPA. They have given Ku a deadline of March 15 to provide investigators with documents and records on inspections, rental agreements, repairs, maintenance costs, tax returns, tenant recruiting information and more.
“CUTPA gives the state of Connecticut broad enforcement powers to protect the public from unfair and deceptive practices,” Tong said, adding that his office will work with the state Department of Consumer Protection to investigate.
He added, “When the federal government is unable or unwilling to act, the state has to step in.”
Records show that Ku bought Clay Arsenal and related properties at a foreclosure auction in 2011. Under his management, tenant leader Teri Morrison said living conditions became uninhabitable.
“The most terrifying situation was about two and a half years ago, while I was preparing a hot meal for my children, a mouse poked his head up through my stove while I was preparing the food. So at that point, I realized that this was a serious situation.”
Morrison said she tried to contact Ku but was unable to reach him or get a response to her complaints. Other former residents submitted complaints about rodent issues, mold and broken structures.
Inspections eventually documented and revealed the health and safety threats posed to residents, and HUD severed its million-dollar-a-year contract with Ku in 2018. Later that year, Tong says Ku sold the Hartford properties at a profit of $6.5 million.
Clay Arsenal and the other properties were bought by an Atlanta-based affordable housing developer, who is renovating the units.
Other landlords of affordable housing facilities in Hartford and around the state have also lost HUD contracts in the last year due to unsafe and unsanitary living conditions, something that Tong said has not been missed by his office.
“Whether it’s Emmanuel Ku or somebody else, we’re going to hold these landlords accountable, so we’re just beginning,” he said.
While Cori Mackey of the Center for Leadership and Justice supports the investigation into Ku and called it an important step, she said the issues that persist in the systems and policies currently in place open the door for these incidents to occur.
“We need to rid our systems of the deep racism that allows this continue year after year,” Mackey said, “and until we do that work, we’ll be fighting one person at a time, watching one family after another continue to suffer.”