Arlington landlord arrested for multiple violations

ARLINGTON -- A man once called a "slumlord" by a Fort Worth City Council member was arrested in Arlington this week after failing to pay more than 100 tickets for code violations at his rental properties.

Elijah Ragira 52, was released from the Arlington City Jail Tuesday on a personal recognizance on seven of the 100 warrants. The total bail amount for all of the 100 warrants is $141,674, court and police officials said.

Most of the warrants stem from code violations city workers discovered last spring during an annual inspection of the Coachlight Square Apartments at 2405 E. Park Row Drive in east Arlington near Texas 360.

Inspectors looked at every apartment in the two-story, 40-unit complex instead of doing the typical survey of 10 percent of those being rented, said Robert Lawless, a community services supervisor. The thorough investigation was warranted because of the complex's previous violations, he said.

Among the violations found by inspectors were exposed wiring, bad plumbing, smoke detector violations, peeling paint, litter and windows in apartment that wouldn't open, which could be dangerous during a fire, Lawless said. Built in 1966 and located near Texas 360, the apartment complex however is structurally sound.

Many of the violations were corrected after an initial inspection last spring, and the complex barely passed a subsequent inspection, according to the city Web site. But it was the city's heightened interest that lead to the repairs.

"He hasn't been completely derelict," Lawless said. "But we had to write a bunch of tickets before he started working."

Repairs under way

Ragira was not available for comment Wednesday, but Coachlight Square manager Mary Renteria said she is confident the apartment complex will pass its inspection this year. Workers have repaired the air conditioning, completely renovated several apartments and plan to replace many of the windows and the fence.

"We've tried to fix everything they wanted fixed," said Renteria, who keeps a folder filled with the city inspection reports on her desk. "There's still some little stuff that needs to be done. It takes time."

Renteria said she believes Ragira does care about the property and has been paying for improvements. The complex also has a different maintenance worker than it did during last year's inspections, she said.

"If he didn't care about it he would have sold it," she said. "He has gotten offers."

Elijah Ragira and Abigael Ragira have at least 16 properties in their names in Tarrant County, according to the Tarrant County Appraisal District's Web site. The Coachlight Square Apartments are listed under the name Masige East LLC, whose address is one of the Ragiras' Arlington properties.

Troubled properties

This isn't the first time Elijah Ragira has been in the news because of his rental properties.

In November 2007, an Arlington Municipal Court judge declared Ragira's apartment complex at 811 S. Mesquite St. in central Arlington to be dangerous and gave him 60 days to repair the two-story building, which inspectors said was dilapidated, unsanitary and posing a fire hazard because of faulty electrical wiring.

Ragira filed a lawsuit against the city the next year, saying the court did not grant him enough time to make repairs and that it would be illegal for the city to demolish his building without giving him compensation. The building was eventually brought up to code.

In 2006, the Dallas Morning News reported that Fort Worth code officials issued Ragira at least four citations for illegally putting locks on tenants' thermostats at the federally subsidized Prince Hall Gardens I Apartments just before a winter storm. Apartment staff told the newspaper the locks were a last ditch attempt to keep electric costs down at the bills-paid complex. The locks were removed, according to the report.

In 1999, Ragira was fined after failing to meet three deadlines to repair the substandard Hemphill House Apartments on Hemphill Street in Fort Worth. The Fort Worth City Council reduced his original $31,500 fine to $6,300 and gave him additional time to complete repairs, which Ragira said were more costly than he had anticipated.

During the appeal, however, then Councilwoman Becky Haskin voted against reducing the fine, telling Ragira that he had devalued his neighbors' properties and that he had earned the title of slumlord.

The Ragiras no longer own any of those three properties, according to the appraisal district.

SUSAN SCHROCK, 817-390-7639