A landlord who allowed apartments for low-income residents to become so disgusting — with rotting floorboards, mold, and rats running around — is now under investigation by the state’s attorney general, a move that followed inaction from federal agencies.
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong announced Wednesday that his office opened an investigation into the landlord, Emmanuel Ku, “for failure to provide decent safe and sanitary housing” while he was receiving federal funding to subsidize the apartments.
Ku, prosecutors said, was “taking advantage of residents and putting them and their families at risk.” BuzzFeed News has reached out to Ku but has not received any comments.
Ku is the former landlord of the Clay Arsenal Renaissance Apartments. He received $1.4 million from HUD yearly since 2007 and tax abatements from the city of Hartford from 2011 until the spring of 2018. Ku sold the apartments for three times the purchasing price for a profit of $6.5 million in December 2018.
“He made a ton of money while failing to hold up his end of the bargain,” Tong said. “We understand that HUD has scarce and limited resources and when the federal government is unable or unwilling to act, the state has to step in.”
The Clay Arsenal Renaissance Apartments comprise 150 units across 26 properties and first made headlines in 2017 when residents publicly aired their grievances about absent building managers and children being bitten by mice in their sleep.
The units had racked up hundreds of HUD violations, including rotting floorboards, mice, and leaking roofs. Tong is now demanding comprehensive evidence of maintenance and management, inspection records, repair records, and tax returns, among other records.
Josh Serrano, tenant leader and organizer of the Center for Leadership and Justice, who lived in the apartments for 11 years, said residents had to “suffer living in a building infested with mice because Ku failed to implement an effective pest control plan to remedy situations.”
He said that when he began organizing tenants in the building, he received notice that he was being moved to a different apartment, which meant a lot of “disruption” for Serrano and his son. Serrano had gained national attention with his “No More Slumlords” campaign in 2017.
“Two years ago, I am happy I opened my door to leadership, to organization, and my fellow tenants,” said Teri Morrison, a tenant leader who lived at the Clay Arsenal Renaissance Apartments and spoke at the press conference Wednesday, and who said she was terrified when she saw a mouse poke its head through her stove while she was cooking two years ago. “I believe that children deserve to go to school from a healthy home and environment.”
Tong’s office will be seeking penalties as well as damages for the residents for “the harm and suffering they went through,” many of whom did not have a chance to move away from these properties because their housing vouchers were not transferable. (In June 2018, HUD Secretary Ben Carson had pledged to remedy that situation and to help the Clay Arsenal Renaissance residents relocate by providing Section 8 vouchers.)
“What shocks the conscience is that the residents in those buildings were stuck here,” Tong said. “And because they were literally trapped here, they suffered great damages to themselves and their safety.”
Ku is still operating in five different states, doing business with HUD in Ohio and running a large project in New York, Tong said.
“There are others who don’t honor their obligations to their tenants,” Tong said, adding he doesn’t want this to happen anymore anywhere in the state.
Teri Morrison's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this post.