City chases away my renters, landlord says

2014-08-09T20:00:00Z 2014-08-10T03:09:22Z City chases away my renters, landlord saysBy Patrick McNamara Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A Tucson landlord has filed a lawsuit in federal court charging the way the city runs its subsidized public housing program interferes with his property management business.

Frank Konarski filed the complaint in U.S. District Court on Aug. 1 accusing the city of antitrust, commerce and civil-rights violations for allegedly encouraging his rental-property tenants to break their leases, and for not approving his applications to become a Section 8 landlord.

Section 8 is a provision of the federal Housing Act that provides rent subsidies for low-income tenants. Local governments administer the federally funded program.

Konarski’s lawsuit claims city practices amount to an “anticompetitive-scheme” resulting in his company losing tenants.

Konarski and his family operate FGPJ Apartments, which owns about six properties comprising more than two dozen apartment units on West Dakota Street near South 12th Avenue.

The lawsuit describes, in part, how a tenant at one of Konarski’s south-side properties applied to the Tucson Housing and Community Development Department for rental assistance through the Section 8 program.

The Section 8 program typically has a long waiting list. It is currently not accepting new applicants.

The tenants, according to the suit, asked to use their Section 8 voucher to remain at the residence they rented from Konarski, which required Konarski to fill out application forms and submit them to the city.

In order to qualify as a Section 8 landlord, the property owner has to file an application with the housing authority and the property must pass an inspection and meet health and safety criteria to qualify.

The lawsuit said Konarski submitted an application to the city in June and again in July but to date has not received approval from the city.

In the meantime, however, the lawsuit said city officials informed the tenants that Konarski’s company had not qualified as a Section 8 landlord. In effect, he alleged, the tenants were told they would have to break their lease and move to a qualified landlord’s property or risk losing the housing subsidy.

“If such tenants initially refuse to breach their secured private housing rental business transactions with Plaintiffs, they are threatened by Defendants (city) that they will lose out on the financial incentive of subsidized housing,” the lawsuit reads.

Konarski’s lawsuit lists nine tenants his company has lost since 2006 because of what they term was the city’s “pattern and practice of interference,” causing him to lose business to other property managers who have qualified for Section 8.

Neither Konarski nor his attorney would comment on the suit.

Tucson City Attorney Mike Rankin said he was aware of the recent lawsuit but could not comment on the specific claims, other than to note the court had denied a portion of the claim, rejecting Konarski’s motion for emergency injunctive relief.

Along with the lawsuit, the Konarskis filed a motion to force the city to end what they consider the city’s “anticompetitive and tortious policy” that could cause the loss of business from certain tenants.

Rankin said Konarski has previously filed several ultimately unsuccessful lawsuits against the city.

A review of court records shows at least 12 lawsuits Konarski filed against the city since the 1990s, most with similar claims of unfair practices or harassment by city officials.

Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik said he was not aware of the most recent lawsuit but knew of the long history of legal claims Konarski has made against the city.

“They’ve run this up the flagpole before, but if history is any indication, this case will probably also be dismissed,” Kozachik said.

Konarski had previously been an approved Section 8 landlord, but the city declined continue approving new rentals with his company in the late 1990s after some alleged incidents with tenants.

According to a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in an appeal Konarski sought: “Sometime prior to 1998, Frank Konarski had one or more disputes that apparently had racial overtones with tenants of his apartment structure and that led the Tucson Community Service Department to decline to enter into any new Section 8 contracts with him.”

The circuit court upheld the lower court’s ruling in favor of the city in that case, which noted a “right to participate in the Section 8 program” did not exist.

That appears to have begun the flurry of lawsuits Konarski filed against the city.

One of those cases was an effort to halt the installation of new waterlines along Dakota Street because, Konarski argued, the already cramped utility infrastructure would have forced the city to place the new waterlines too close to existing sewer systems. That case also was unsuccessful.

And it’s not only the city that has taken note of Konarski. In 2007, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office filed a Fair Housing Act discrimination lawsuit against Konarski for evicting a tenant who had sought improvements to his apartment to accommodate his disability.

Konarski entered into a settlement with the state in which it was agreed the tenant would be paid $100,000. The settlement did not require any admission of liability or violation of law.

Contact reporter Patrick McNamara at 573-4241 or pmcnamara@tucson.com. On Twitter @pm929.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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