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Housing issues affect everyone in Connecticut, from those who are searching for a safe place to live, to those who may find it increasingly difficult to afford a place they already call home.WNPR is covering Connecticut's housing and homelessness issues in a series that examines how residents are handling the challenges they face. We look at the trends that matter most right now, and tell stories that help bring the issues to light.

Hartford Landlord Avoids Court Appearance, Confrontation with Angry Tenants

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Nicole Leonard
/
Connecticut Public Radio
Residents of Barbour Gardens meet in February to discuss the deteriorating conditions of the apartment complex.

The owner of Barbour Gardens, a subsidized housing complex in the North End of Hartford, was expected to appear in court Tuesday to face criminal housing charges, but the New York-based landlord was a no-show.

And that frustrated Tasha Jordan, a resident of the building.

“It’s just too much, it’s just too much,” she said outside the courthouse. “My depression, my anxiety, I have had it with this man and I need some justice for my daughter, and he needs to be here to feel our pain. He’s not here at all. I can’t do this. I can’t. He needs to be here.”

Tensions ran high at the scheduled court arraignment Tuesday—a group of Barbour Gardens residents and advocates wearing shirts that said 'No More Slumlords' waited to confront building owner Martin Rothman over their living conditions, which they say have grown worse over the years.

Rothman, who owns Barbour Gardens through a company called ADAR Hartford Realty LLC, is facing several misdemeanor charges for violating fire safety code, according to court documents. The fire code issues were identified and brought forth by the city’s Fire Marshal’s Office.

The court proceedings come just several months after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development severed a $750,000-a-year Section 8 housing contract with Barbour Gardens after inspectors found that the building had “major threats to health and safety.”

And Jordan, who has lived in the apartment building with her two daughters for eight years, said she and her children have experienced the deteriorating conditions with little to no help.

“He [Rothman] really doesn’t care about us here, he doesn’t care about our kids, because right now, our kids are suffering with the mold, mildew, mices and whatnot," she said through tears. "My daughter is living out of paper, plastic bags because the mices is taking over our places.” 

Rothman was required to appear at the hearing, but instead spoke through his Connecticut-based attorney, Carl Porto, who said his client thinks that the Connecticut court lacks jurisdiction over him and therefore chose not to appear on Tuesday.

“You know that that’s not how this process works, right?” asked Housing Court Judge Rupal Shah.

“I’m expressing the opinion of my client based on advice he’s received from New York counsel,” Porto said.

This reasoning didn’t sit well with Alexander Taubes, an attorney based in New Haven who is representing tenants of Barbour Gardens.

“They don’t believe that the Connecticut court has jurisdiction over this New York landlord who owns property in Connecticut and who has hurt people in Connecticut,” he said.

Rothman’s attorney said improvements are already being made to the apartment complex, and the realty company is in the process of trying to sell the buildings to a buyer that could continue the work. He requested two weeks in order to prove progress on that front.

A new court date has been scheduled for later this month.

But in the meantime, an attorney representing the state in the criminal case said an investigation is ongoing and that “someone should be present to face the charges.”

HUD announced back in February that it would help relocate residents to safer housing. Some tenants have been moved, but Jordan said more are still in the process of figuring out where they’re going to live next.

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