Omaha’s city prosecutor plans to file 100 criminal charges against the landlord of the Yale Park Apartments complex that was in such bad shape that 500 refugees were forced to evacuate four months ago.
Mayor Jean Stothert announced Friday that landlord Kay Anderson will face 100 misdemeanors relating to violating city code and not fixing repairs at the apartments at 34th Avenue and Lake Street after squalid conditions were found.
Omaha City Prosecutor Matt Kuhse said that if convicted, Anderson could spend up to 50 years in jail. Each count — one for each apartment unit — carries up to six months in jail and a $500 fine.
Anderson’s attorney, Jason Bruno, said the city continues to exaggerate the conditions found on the property and has not given Anderson enough time to appeal the initial code violations or fix them.
“They’re playing politics, due process be damned,” Bruno said Friday afternoon. “These are bullying and intimidation tactics and we’re not going to be bullied and intimidated.”
Bruno said he expects to sue the city on Anderson’s behalf for violation of his civil and property rights.
“One hundred percent there’s going to be a lawsuit filed here,” he said. “The city and those responsible need to answer for this, because it’s a disgrace. If they could do this to my client, they could do this to any property owner.”
Stothert said Anderson was granted several deadline extensions to make progress on the property. The most recent deadline set by the city came and went on Jan. 17.
He has made “only minimal cosmetic repair” on the apartments, even though it’s been more than 100 days since the city intervened, she said. He has filed for no permits from the city.
“We felt like the period of time that we gave him ... was plenty of time to show us some progress, which he did not,” Stothert said. “We felt like this was time we should take action.”
Anderson contacted a city housing inspector Friday morning and said he would return to Omaha next month, Stothert said.
Kuhse said the city is arranging for Anderson to accept a citation by Feb. 4. If he doesn’t, the city will issue a warrant for his arrest.
In his nearly 30-year career with the city, Planning Director Dave Fanslau said he couldn’t recall a property owner who had been charged with so many violations or had a property in such poor condition.
Stothert said, “When we say we’re serious about this, we hope we send that message to other landlords that have code violations in their properties, that this is not going to be tolerated in the future.”
Anderson owns the apartment complex through AB Realty, his Utah-based limited liability company.
He and his wife had lived on-site in one of the units, and have characterized themselves as do-gooders giving back to God by renting out affordable apartments to refugees from Myanmar.
City housing officials disagreed: They conducted a mass inspection and evacuation of Yale Park in September after receiving dozens of housing complaints from tenants.
Building inspectors found gas leaks, bedbug infestations, leaky ceilings and mold and eventually cited Anderson with a total of 1,962 violations.
Anderson faces other legal trouble — last month 92 former Yale Park tenants filed a lawsuit against him seeking security deposits, rent refunds and other damages stemming from living in substandard apartments.
Anderson has maintained that tenants were at least partially to blame for not cleaning and taking better care of their apartments.
In previous interviews with The World-Herald, Anderson said he wanted the chance to fix up his property and bring it up to code. But at the same time, he said the city had to be flexible and fair with their expectations. He estimated that it could take as long as a year to remedy all the problems.
“We need to sit down with the city and see if we can’t work out a plan to repair them,” Anderson said in October. “I don’t want to go into a half-million dollars (worth of repairs) and the city says, ‘You’ve missed a deadline, we’re demolishing it.’”
The city initially gave Anderson 30 days to fix the most serious problems at the complex, and additional time for more minor problems, but that deadline was extended multiple times.
At the end of December, Scott Lane, the city’s chief housing inspector, said Anderson has made little or no progress on improving his property, beyond clearing out some gardens and removing vehicles from the site.
In recent weeks, there have been contractors or maintenance workers on-site doing small jobs like painting, Lane said Friday. Most of the buildings still don’t have power, though gas service has been restored, he said.
Lane estimated that bringing the entire property up to code could cost several million dollars.
A construction plan drawn up by Anderson’s attorney indicated that he wanted to fix up two of the complex’s 13 buildings, then rent those out to raise money to finish repairing the remaining buildings, Lane said.
Bruno said experts hired by Anderson have combed through the buildings and dispute many of the city’s findings.
“There was not imminent risk to health and safety,” he said.
Reviewing the violations, drawing up construction schedules and bidding out work all takes time, Bruno said.
“(The city has) no interest in following the law or giving my client due process,” he said. “Their only goal is to shut down these properties. ... They shut down a legitimate business and my client’s ability to earn a living.”
Yale Park residents paid upward of $500 per month for two- and three-bedroom apartments.
The charges come amid continued discussion in the Nebraska Legislature to enact proactive rental inspection programs in Omaha and Lincoln, legislation the city opposes. City officials said the timing is unrelated.