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NC5 Investigates: Consumer Alert

Nashville Slumlord Leaves Behind Mess

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by Jennifer Kraus
Consumer Investigator

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - You've probably heard the term slumlord referring to a property owner who doesn't take care of it.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates has found a man who, some say, is one of Nashville's biggest slumlords -- and taxpayers may end up having to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to clean up the mess he's left behind.

When Debbie Cartwright walks out her front door and looks across the street, she sees a vacant, boarded up house with broken windows. The back doors are kicked in and the roof and a back wall seem like they're about to fall.

"And is this what you want to be looking at?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Cartwright.

"No, no, no, no!" she replied, adding, "It's just an abandoned house that needs to be thrown down."

Cartwright said it's pretty much been like this since a Los Angeles real estate investor Shlomo Eplboim and his real estate company bought it five years ago.

And, if you think the house on 14th Avenue North is bad, you should see another property owned by another of Eplboim's companies. The Metro Codes Department most recently got involved after discovering a huge pile of trash and debris in the parking lot earlier this year.

The property at the corner of 26th Avenue North and Clarksville Highway now is a giant eyesore and, according to assistant codes director Bill Penn, a health hazard.

"It is unbelievable," Penn said. "I mean, until you see it, you can't believe that people were a couple of months ago still living out there with all of that trash and garbage and debris. And he was coming every month to collect the rents."

The River Village Apartments are all now vacant. The city ordered the tenants out this summer after codes officials say Eplboim refused to remove all that had been dumped there. Metro said it had no choice but to take him to court, just as it did after that house on 14th Avenue North was left in such bad shape.

In fact, we found that Metro has had to take Eplboim and his companies to court more than 45 times over the last five years, for failing to take care of or clean up these and some 30 other properties.

"He has absolutely no care, no concern for our community, the tenants he says he's serving," Penn explained.

Barbara Jones and her grandson Sherman Hawkins lived in the River Village apartments until they were forced out.

Jones told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that the power at the complex often went out, sometimes there was no running water. And for weeks, the 81-year-old Jones said, water gushed from her bathroom sink and ran all the way through her apartment and out her front door.

"It was real bad," Jones recalled. "He said it wasn't fixing nothing cause he didn't have no money."

Hawkins, meanwhile, lived in the building next door and insisted the plumbing was so bad urine and feces ran down the walls.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked him, "So when the people upstairs used their bathroom, their waste came down into your bathroom?"

"Yes, ma'am," he replied.

"And he wouldn't fix that?"

"No, ma'am."

Bill Penn said Eplboim's tenants put up with conditions like this because in many cases, they had nowhere else to go.

"To me, he's preying on a class of people, a group of people that are in a tough spot," Penn stated.

However, Eplboim insisted that he did the best he could, instead blaming neighbors and even his own tenants for the problems.

"This is the nature of the area," Eplboim told NewsChannel 5 Investigates by phone from Los Angeles.

"Many of these people are not getting up in the morning to contribute to society in any shape or form and they are trying to do every short cut to scam the system and that's part of their style. That's what they do."

NewsChannel 5 found documents that show Eplboim's investors said they gave him millions to buy properties in Nashville, but he never paid them what they were owed. Industry regulators also have claimed that he blocked their investigation into his suspected "fraudulent conduct" by refusing to turn over financial documents.

Meanwhile, here in Metro, the Codes department's Bill Penn said, "Our hands are tied with this guy because he knows the law and the system so well. He's made an art out of this whole process."

Metro said that Eplboim has walked away from the River Village property. The city wants the land cleared, but Eplboim has failed to show up for recent court hearings on the matter.

Eplboim told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that he's repeatedly offered to clean it up.

"I have been held back by Metro environmental, not allowing to be cleaned. We have a dispute how it should be cleaned," he said.

Unless that dispute is resolved soon, Metro Codes officials said, taxpayers will likely have to pay to clean the property up which could cost close to half a million dollars.

"It's maddening -- and it's ridiculous that he thinks this is all okay," Penn said.

Eplboim maintained that he no longer has anything to do with his real estate investment company, Epandco.

But Metro said that doesn't get him off the hook for the mess at the apartments. The city is still holding both Eplboim and the company are responsible. He did tell NewsChannel 5 Investigates he's going to talk with Metro later this week about his plan to clean it up.

But both he and the city said that his idea of what needs to be done at the property and how to do it have, at least in the past, been a lot different than the city's.

Email: jkraus@newschannel5.com

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