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Latino Advocacy Group Takes Apartment to Court, Alleging Racially Targeted Neglect

Maryland activists say a nationwide apartment company and a property management firm are raising Latino residents’ rent even as they refuse to properly repair run-down apartments plagued by rodents, mold and shabby infrastructure.

A Latino advocacy group and tenants in Maryland filed a federal lawsuit Monday accusing the owners, managers and lenders of a nationwide apartment company of keeping residents in squalid conditions in order to increase profits for its investors.

“For more than a decade, we have been trying to speak to the owners and managers of this property to work together to improve the property conditions, and our pleas have continued to fall on deaf ears,” said Gustavo Torres, executive director of the nonprofit immigrant advocacy group CASA, in a statement. “We do not want an out-of-state property owner who intentionally divests from our community because of our country of origin or the language we speak. We do not want this real estate investment trust, Arbor Management Acquisition Company, to think that they can enrich their investors on the backs of the women and children who live in the apartments they own. We demand dignity.”

The 132-page lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court of Maryland. The plaintiffs live in Bedford Station and Victoria Station, or BVS, a combined 589-unit apartment complex in Prince George’s County.

No white people live in the complexes, the lawsuit says, and 84% of the tenants are Latino.

New York-based Arbor Realty Trust and its subsidiaries and Realty Management Services, a Maryland-based property management company, are named as defendants. Neither firm immediately responded to requests for comment.

The lawsuit claims that Arbor, which holds ownership stakes in over 8,000 apartment units across the United States, targets apartment complexes in poor and minority areas to buy them before systematically neglecting basic maintenance of the buildings and grounds, trapping tenants in horrific conditions while increasing the rents annually and passing the profits to shareholders.

The companies enact these policies against minority tenants but not to wealthier and whiter ones in violation of the Fair Housing Act, according to the lawsuit.

“With these policies, BVS presents an unsafe, unsanitary environment where broken windows are routinely replaced with plywood, repurposed wooden doors or other construction material,” the complaint says, illustrating the conditions with dozens of photographs. “Holes from collapsing ceilings related to failed plumbing are common. Toxic molds grow without any attempt at remediation.”

Tenants also contend with “persistent, uncontrollable rodent infestations,” bed bugs, roaches, lack of heat and air conditioning, broken refrigerators and stoves, faulty wiring and “rusted bathroom radiators” that “have been deteriorating for decades,” the complaint says.

“I am suing today because I have lived in my apartment for more than 10 years, and my rent keeps increasing — but they never fix anything that’s broken,” said Maria Lara, a single mother pays $1,613 per month to live in a moldy and insect-infested apartment with her daughter, according to the CASA statement.

The advocacy group enlisted local politicians in support of the suit.

“Mold, broken appliances and mice are not acceptable living conditions for anyone and certainly not anyone living in Prince George’s County,” said Deni Taveras, vice chair of Prince George’s County Council, in the statement. “The residents of Bedford and Victoria Station Apartments are living under inhabitable conditions due to the degree of neglect and disinvestment. We must work together to make Prince George’s County a healthy and happy place to live. I stand with CASA and the families of Bedford and Victoria Station in their crusade for quality and affordable housing justice for all.”

The plaintiffs are represented by Joseph Donahue of Annapolis, Maryland, and Jonathan Nace of Nidel & Nace PLLC.

“This case is very simple,” Donahue said in the statement. “Arbor Realty Trust is one of the largest multifamily housing landlords in the United States. However, in becoming a landlord on that scale, it has created a conflict of interest for itself. It has duties to its shareholders and it has duties to its tenants. As a publicly traded company, Arbor needs to ensure profits for their shareholders. But above all, they need to provide safe homes for their tenants. Arbor has violated their duties to their tenants — our clients — because in the end, the profits for the shareholders were more important. That is what this case is all about.”

The plaintiffs seek class action status.

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