(7/13/2018) Your first apartment should feel like freedom, but for one Little Rock woman, she says it quickly became more like prison. It turns out, Arkansas renters have very few protections under the law, leaving Zakyrah Gilbert with very few options. We are not showing you the exterior of her apartment complex to protect her from further retaliation. 

18 year old Zakyrah Gilbert couldn’t wait to get her own place. “So excited slept on the floor for two days before i could get my bed in.” says Zakyrah.

But, she moved into her new apartment to find it was already home to someone else. Ants. “I had them really, really, really bad.” says Zakyrah.

Zakyrah says the unwanted roommates were relentless, biting her and her young daughter. Then, she says they were soon accompanied by other bugs, like roaches, after a maintenance guy busted a hole in her bathroom trying to fix a plumbing problem. “They came inside my home when I was asleep and broke all of us this due to the home downstairs that no one stays in.” say Zakyrah. “I mean, it was really nasty. I still can’t use my sink.”

She says when she spoke up to complain, management struck back. “They never gave me any warnings it was just on my door when I woke up.” say Zakyrah.

Zakyrah was soon slapped with what she calls futile violations. The first for $50, then 1$50, then $350 for things like “inappropriate behavior with the property manager.” A fourth violation would mean eviction. “Not threatening, never tried to fight her, never went and called her b’s. It was just a disagreement.” says Zakyrah.

“It’s unhealthy and unsafe to me.” says Zakyrah’s mother Nacole Gilbert. Zakyrah’s mom says she’s experienced her fair share of bad landlords. She’s tried, but failed. to help her daughter in her apartment dispute. 

“I think Arkansas is probably the only state that don’t protect us.” says Nacole. “We have no protection. If you don’t like it, iIcan throw you out.”

In fact, tenants’-rights activists have called the Natural State the worst place to rent in the country because it’s the only state without an “implied warranty of habitability.” That means Arkansas landlords have zero obligation to make repairs or ensure rental properties are in a livable condition. 46% of Little Rock residents rent their homes, which is higher than both the state and national averages.

A study presented to city leaders earlier this summer examined the direct connection between housing and health.  It found living in general substandard conditions, like the plumbing and pest issues Zakyrah faced, led to “psychological behavior dysfunctions”, elevated blood lead levels, and even higher risks of child maltreatment. 

These photos show just some of the unhealthy situations little rock renters are forced to live in, many, without the financial means to get out, and some who fear they’ll be kicked out should they speak out. 

 Ken Richardson is the Cty Director for Ward Two in Little Rock. “That’s insulting its offensive and it angers me.” says Richardson. He represents the ward where Zakyrah lives, and says he’s known some “misery merchant” landlords who capitalize on the lack of tenants’ rights. 

“They’re not concerned about the people living in those facilities.” says Richardson. “They’re more concerned about keeping them occupied.”

But, we didn’t want to make any assumptions. So, we went to Zakyrah’s property managers to get their side of the story. Below is the exchange KARK reporter Victoria Price had with managers:

Manager: “This is private property.”

Victoria: “Okay, I just had a couple quick questions.”

Manager: “No just do it by email please.”

Victoria: “Okay so I can’t ask you about any issues with tenants?

Manager: **closes door* 

By the way, the managers never returned those emails. They did, however, call the cops. 

“We have got to have some better laws to protect the tenants.” says Nacole Gilbert, Zakryah’s mom. While some of that change would have to start at the state level, Director Richardson feels there’s more the city can do, too. “I think we need to have the penalties strict enough harsh enough that it makes owners and managers address those issues that are unhealthy.” says Richardson.

As for Zakyrah, her main focus is just finding a new place to live. “I don’t wish this on no one,” says Zakyah.

Several lawmakers, including State Representative Greg Leding from Northwest Arkansas, have tried but failed to pass a warranty of habitability in the past. Leding had said he’s committed to trying again during the 2019 legislative session. As for Zakyrah, she is still living at that apartment complex, but says she’s still trying to figure out how to break her lease and move.