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Records Detail Tax Abatement, Tenant Complaints At Embattled North End Apartments

The landlord at the center of a controversy over the condition of federally subsidized Clay Arsenal Renaissance Apartments is heavily backed by taxpayer funds, receiving nearly $260,000 in city tax abatements for the current fiscal year, records obtained by the Courant show.

Emmanuel Ku, a New York-based property owner, has been benefiting from the tax abatement with the city since 2015. Under the terms of the agreement, which expires in 2022, Ku will pay 20 percent of the assessed taxes on his properties at the end of the current fiscal year.

The Courant obtained these records this week through a Freedom of Information Act request as residents from the North End housing network spoke out about alleged neglect by their landlord.

Ku's tax abatement — approved in 2015 — was built on the structure of a previous agreement with the former owner of Ku's properties, Clay Hill Associates. That agreement was terminated after Clay Hill defaulted on its contract and the properties were foreclosed.

Ku purchased the 26 buildings as part of a larger package of 30 city properties from the Clay Hill Associates during a foreclosure auction in January 2011. Last year, he received $1.6 million in rent subsidies from the 150 apartments in that housing network.

Signed by then-Mayor Pedro Segarra, the tax abatement offered to Ku calculates his payments by multiplying the total number of units he operates by $290 and then dividing that number by the amount of rent he collected in a calendar year.

For fiscal year 2017-18, the properties Ku owns were assessed at $327,426.04. He'll pay about $67,000 in taxes, according to that formula.

Ku must maintain at least 150 units for low or moderate income and can't sell or transfer them during the duration of the agreement.

He also is required to use the money to, among other things "improve the quality and design of such dwelling units" and "provide necessary related facilities and services in such dwelling units," according to the agreement.

Since Ku purchased the North End apartment buildings in 2011, the city's department of licenses and inspections recorded 127 resident complaints and code violations. Issues ranging from overgrown grass and broken heaters to mice "falling from a hole in the ceiling."

The tenants' struggle with rodents, mold and other hazards became public after officials from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development conducted an inspection in May at the request of the Rev. Ashley "AJ" Johnson and his colleagues on the Christian Activities Council.

That inspection found the apartments were "very poorly maintained, neither safe nor sanitary," according to a notice of default sent to Ku, also obtained by the Courant. Inspectors found dead mice, "unfinished patchwork in ceilings and walls," and uncovered bathroom outlets, the notice continues.

Ku fixed those issues, as correspondence between his management firm, Ah Min Holding, and HUD officials shows. But the documents released by the city indicate his properties have a history of similar issues.

Of the 26 buildings Ku owns in Hartford, four have no complaints or violations on record.

The remaining 22 have records going back to 2012, with the lion's share (86) generated by tenant complaints. Another 21 were building code violations that came from routine inspections, and 16 were public health violations, also found through routine inspections.

Twenty-two cases remain active, the records show. One has been "open" since January 2013, an issue with the oil burner and water heater in 57 Center Street.

Some of the cases on file overlap with other, related complaints—hence the slight difference in totals. And a dozen resident complaints were ruled unfounded by city officials.

The complaints themselves carry common themes. References to "mice" or "rodents" appear 25 times in the 127 files. Utility concerns were also frequent, usually issues with heat or hot water that were resolved within a few days.

Ceiling and wall damage from leaking water is also recorded in the files. One complaint from 2015 states that the resident told inspectors the "floor is falling apart."

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