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Peppertree Apartments ask federal court to intervene in dispute with city, district attorney

Published: Dec. 5, 2021 at 2:20 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A Memphis apartment complex that was deemed a public nuisance last month has filed a federal lawsuit against the Shelby County District Attorney and the City of Memphis.

The owners and managers of the Peppertree Apartments in Whitehaven are asking a federal court to intervene in a dispute over whether the apartments can remain open.

On November 23, Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, and Police Chief C.J. Davis announced the complex had been deemed a public nuisance after police responded to more than 1,600 calls there since March 2020.

“It’s ridiculous that this location has been the site of this many calls for service with the Memphis Police Department that it has been the topic of this many conversations among the community,” said Weirich.

Shelby County Environmental Court issued a temporary injunction, stopping all new business at Peppertree.

It also prevents management from renewing any current leases.

The City of Memphis and Shelby County District Attorney’s Office hope the environmental court will make the injunction permanent.

Alexander Wharton, who represents Peppertree’s owners and property managers, says a permanent injunction would force the apartment complex to close.

He says that would violate federal law.

He says his clients are legally obligated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide affordable housing.

“When we’re talking about an apartment complex that is fully funded federally, every single tenant over there receives some type of federal assistance, that is strictly within the grounds or within the hands of HUD as well as the federal court,” Wharton said.

In a federal complaint, Wharton asked a judge to assume jurisdiction over the matter and declare that neither the City of Memphis nor the Shelby County District Attorney nor the environmental court has the authority to force Peppertree to close.

The Shelby County District Attorney’s Office called it “a delay tactic.”

“We’re here to see this through and if that means a little patience right now, a little patience right now,” said Paul Hagerman, Assistant District Attorney.

The temporary injunction remains in place for now, but the environmental court Judge Patrick Dandridge wants to see what the federal court does before moving forward.

Wharton says leases will expire for 17 families who live at Peppertree.

He says they cannot renew those leases if the temporary injunction remains.

In addition, he says 10 to 15 other families hoping to move to Peppertree won’t be able to.

A hearing date has not been scheduled in federal court.

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