WARWICK, RI — Jeffrey Butler, Warwick property management businessman and landlord, has been sued by the the R.I. Center for Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union of RI, after he left voicemails and notices threatening four tenants with retaliatory evictions for associating with non-profit tenant organizer Reclaim RI.
The suit alleges that Butler, manager of Elmwood Realty at 2077 Elmwood Ave., Warwick, threatened four low-income tenants in Pawtucket and West Warwick who worked with Reclaim RI to defend their rights to safe and healthy housing conditions.
According to the suit, organizers for Reclaim RI began speaking with tenants at Elmwood’s housing complexes in Pawtucket and West Warwick in September about organizing to address common concerns about conditions in their rented homes.
In October, following one such conversation, Sylvia Rivera, tenant at 136 Harrison St., Apt. 14, in Pawtucket, filed a complaint about her apartment with the Pawtucket code enforcement agency, which performed an inspection Oct. 13 and cited Elmwood Realty and Butler for:
- Broken doors in the bedroom and leading to the porch;
- A mouse infestation;
- Problems with the bathroom and kitchen plumbing;
- Problems with the kitchen cabinets;
- Problems with the bathroom floor;
- Problems with the fire and/or carbon monoxide detectors.
That same day, Oct. 13, Butler emailed numerous Elmwood Realty tenants, including each of the plaintiffs, stating his opposition to Reclaim RI’s tenant organizing efforts and threatening eviction of any tenant associating with the tenant organization.
In a phone conversation with Sylvia Rivera on Oct. 19, Butler told Rivera that he knew that she and Mr. Rivera were working with Reclaim RI, which has also made headlines in the Providence Journal and UpriseRI for its efforts to help tenants of Pioneer Investments, LLC, which owns at least 60 properties in the state. Tenants renting from the landlord have similarly been met with eviction notices upon organizing with Reclaim RI to address repairs and living condition improvements in their apartments.
Lawsuit: Butler issued evictions after tenants spoke with Reclaim RI
After some of the tenants talked with Reclaim RI organizers and called the city’s code enforcement agency to report housing violations, they were also given notices of termination of tenancy. The lawsuit notes that Butler called the organizers and left a voicemail message telling them: “If at any time you talk to any of my tenants, the tenants are gonna get a 30-day notice to vacate the premises.”
He also sent a notice to all tenants saying: “If you make a choice to engage with this Reclaim RI group, I will consider that you have now dissolved our relationship and when your tenancy is over, we will ask you to vacate,” the lawsuit documents.
Recordings of Butler’s voicemail messages to Reclaim RI have been posted to the ACLU of Rhode Island website and included in documentation in the lawsuit. In a second voicemail, Butler accuses Reclaim RI of bullying his corporation.
“I notice you’re not going after the big corporations, you’re going after the smaller landlords,” Butler said in one of his voicemails.
Butler’s operations span at least two corporations owning several residential and commercial properties in at least five communities: Warwick and Coventry, West Warwick, Cranston, and Pawtucket.
Elmwood Realty, with offices in Warwick at 2077 Elmwood Ave., has three recent complaints against it registered with the Better Business Bureau, which has rated the property management company with an F.
Spring Street Realty, which lists Butler as manager at the same address as Elmwood Realty, is also the owner of several residential and commercial buildings.
On Butler’s TikTok account, he says he has 380 tenants and 480 apartments. Butler said that he was in the process of evicting the people in the lawsuit already when the lawsuit was filed.
“They were already being evicted. They actually retaliated against me by calling Reclaim Rhode Island in. I don’t say they’re retaliating against me for calling the building inspector, because that is their legal right. I encourage them to do that,” Butler said.
Warwick Post founder Rob Borkowski is a former tenant of Elmwood Realty, LLC.
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