Unrelated suspects arrested in a high-profile murder case, a kidnapping and a number of drug busts all have one thing in common: They rent from the same landlord.
Bhola Gupta and his family business, Rhoda Realty, own more than 100 rental homes around Raleigh, mostly in working-class neighborhoods inside the Beltline. Neighbors of Gupta properties say his failure to screen potential tenants has brought crime and other issues to otherwise quiet communities. They’re submitting a petition to the Raleigh City Council to have one of his properties on Rumson Road in East Raleigh declared a nuisance.
“There’s yelling in the yard, cursing at each other,” said Ty Bumgardner, who lives on Rumson. “You’ll get the activity that looks drug related. ... Half the time, the place looks like a used car lot.”
For his part, Gupta says he does his best to keep crime out of his rentals. “Anytime I get police reports – any kind of crime, arrest, theft – I immediately evict them,” he said.
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But Gupta says he was unaware of recent police activity at his Rumson Road house. In May, Raleigh police raided the home and charged resident Karen Michelle Gilchrist, 47, with possessing cocaine. A year earlier, 28-year-old Michael Lamont Gilchrist was charged with resisting a police officer in a 1 a.m. incident at the house.
Both Michael and Karen Gilchrist have a history of drug and other convictions. Gupta said he doesn’t conduct criminal background checks when he screens renters. “We don’t have any resources to go for the criminal record,” he said.
Drugs aren’t the only issue neighbors have with the Rumson Road house. The Gilchrist family were the owners of Honey, a notorious Saint Bernard who attacked several neighborhood pets and prompted calls for tougher animal control rules. Honey was later moved to a house in North Raleigh, attacked another dog, and was euthanized after a court order.
Gupta says he was aware of the animal attacks and has received numerous complaints from neighbors. He says he thinks some of the complainers are racists because the Gilchrists are black; neighbors say that’s a lie. “Some neighbors have become a little too much to handle,” he said.
Still, Gupta said he plans to look into the cocaine arrest and begin eviction proceedings if he can obtain police records of the incident.
Rumson Road is among numerous Gupta addresses to appear in crime logs. Travion Devonte Smith, 20, listed Gupta’s rental on Fuller Street when he was charged in May with the murder of Melissa Huggins-Jones, a bank manager killed in her North Hills apartment.
Gupta says he read about the case and called his tenant to ask about Smith. The tenant told him Smith had only been staying there temporarily, and Gupta said he took no further action.
Also in May, two residents of a Gupta house on Watkins Street were charged with child abuse. Gupta said he evicted the tenant for failing to pay rent. “That one is taken care of,” he said.
Neighbors of the properties say they’re powerless to address problems from Gupta houses, and many say they’re scared of his tenants. Since the beginning of the year, Raleigh housing inspectors have received 26 complaints about Gupta properties, records show. But inspectors closed most of those cases, writing that the homes were in compliance.
“He keeps it just clean enough to keep the city off his back,” Bumgardner said.
Raleigh had a program to address crime-magnet rental homes until 2011, when the program was crippled by state legislation. The Probationary Rental Occupancy Permit (PROP) initiative effectively fined landlords for homes that saw a high number of police calls. Continued PROP violations could cause landlords to forfeit their ability to rent out property.
The city will have to change the program – and get city council approval – to comply with state law, said housing inspection administrator Ashley Glover. “Nothing’s being enforced at the current time,” he said.
With the PROP rules out of commission, Gupta’s neighbors are hoping a nuisance declaration could help – especially with records in hand of crime at the landlord’s other homes.
Gupta, however, argues that most of his tenants are law-abiding. Criminal suspects, he said, are the minority. “You will always find something with 100 tenants,” he added.