On June 20, Raleigh landlord Bhola Gupta, 77, was arrested on a felony charge of breaking and entering a house he owns and rents on Curfman Avenue, according to police records. According to the complainant, Antonia Bell, and a police incident report obtained by the INDY Thursday afternoon, while he was inside her house Gupta stole a television, men’s shoes and hats, even dining room chairs and picture frames.
It wasn’t the first time allegations like this have been lodged against Gupta, records show. On April 24, Annette Winston of Grissom Street alleged that Gupta, or someone operating under his employ, had broken into her apartment and taken her 15-year-old son’s television, according to police reports and Winston. The police arrested Gupta on a misdemeanor charge; the disposition of this case was not immediately clear.
Reached by phone Thursday evening, Gupta told the INDY that “the best thing to do would be for me to sit down with you” and explain his side of the story. Tentative plans were made to do so Friday. Told that the INDY was planning to post a blog entry about his arrest before this meeting could take place, Gupta replied that he understood. “The truth must come out,” he said.
Both of these cases have a common thread: The tenants were in the process of moving out following disputes with Gupta.
According to Bell, the landlord has a policy of filing for eviction if a tenant is even one day late on the rent. (Indeed, when reached Thursday night, Gupta told the INDY he was going to be at the courthouse Friday getting a lockout order from the sheriff’s department.) By April she and her boyfriend, Alexander, had stayed in their three-bedroom, two-bath house on Curfman for six or seven months, Bell says. (While many of Gupta’s properties are located in east Raleigh, this house is in the Fuller Heights area southwest of downtown.) That month, she says, they were late on their $900 rent, but they didn’t think it was a big deal. They assumed they had a five-day grace period.
But Gupta, she says, almost immediately filed for eviction—“before we could even pay him,” Bell says. To reverse the eviction, she says, Gupta increased their rent to $1,161 for the next two months.
Bell decided to move out. They didn’t like the way they’d been treated. But on June 19, she says, Alexander called and said someone had been in their house while they were out. The only person who had a key besides the two of them, says Bell, was their landlord. She says she called Gupta and asked if he’s been in their house—generally speaking, landlords only enter houses without permission in cases of emergency or to make critical repairs—and he confirmed that he had been.
Bell says that Gupta told her he entered the house because of a nasty stench of food gone bad emanating from the refrigerator. But when she went to the house, she discovered that more than food was missing. Also gone were a 37-inch flatscreen television (the police report lists its value at $2,000, which seems unlikely), kitchen chairs, picture frames, dozens of men’s shoes and hats, and even her boyfriend’s gold teeth, according to Bell and the incident report.
“He took everything off my walls,” she told the INDY Thursday.
Bell called the cops. Gupta was arrested the next day and charged with felony larceny and breaking and entering, according to information from the Wake County Detention Center.
“Everybody told us he was a slumlord,” Bell says. “We didn’t know he stole.”
She says the police advised her sue in small claims court to retrieve her items. She says she approached Legal Aid, but was told they could not file in small claims court based solely on a criminal complaint.
“We got robbed by our landlord,” Bell says with a measure of disbelief. When you tell people that, she adds, they assume that means he was overarching on the rent. “No,” she says. “We were B-and-E’d.”
At the time of the incident, Bell says, Gupta hadn’t filed for eviction that month—meaning she had the right to be there.
Around the same time Gupta was moving to evict Bell, Annette Winston filed a different criminal complaint against Gupta, alleging that he had broken into her house in the midst of an eviction and stolen a television.
Winston says she signed her lease on Feb. 20, but because the house she was renting (a two-bedroom for $900 a month) had a busted water heater and broken toilet, she was not able to move in until March 1. In the meantime she had to stay at—and pay for—a hotel.
When her rent came due on March 20, she didn’t have the money. She’d spent it on the hotel. Winston says she called Gupta and told him that she thought it fair that she pay on April 1, a month after she actually took possession of the property. She says Gupta told her the lease was the lease, and on March 25 filed for eviction.
They went before an eviction judge April 6, Winston says. The judge ruled that Winston didn’t owe Gupta any money, Winston says, but did ask her if she wanted to continue living in that house. Winston said no.
“I didn’t like his attitude,” she says.
The judge gave her 10 days to move out. But she wasn’t able to move everything out of the house by then, so Gupta went to the sheriff’s office and got a lockout order. When she came home on April 24, she was locked out. She called Gupta, who sent a worker out to let her in the house to retrieve her belongings. When she got in, she says, she discovered that her son’s television was missing from his bedroom.
She called the cops and filed a police report.
Winston says Gupta told the cops that he had did not steal a television because he has money and could afford to buy one on his own. He said one of his workers had come by to do the lockout, not him—except, Winston says, Gupta couldn’t remember that worker’s name: “Chico,” maybe, she says he told the police.
Gupta, Winston says, “was very disrespectful to the police officer.”
While Raleigh PD provided snapshots of these incident reports, it declined to release the full reports, so her account of Gupta’s arrest cannot be immediately independently verified, though police records show he was in fact arrested on April 29 on misdemeanor counts of larceny and resisting a public officer.
Unfortunately for Winston, the television was two years old, and she could not produce a receipt. Its value was assessed in the police report as $149. She has not gotten the TV back, she says.
“If this is not a crook, I don’t know what is,” Winston says. “Something has to be done about him.”
She’s not the only one who feels that way.
Gupta—who owns 54 properties in his own name, according to property records, and who neighbors say has others in family members’ names—is something of a notorious figure in east Raleigh, where many of his properties are concentrated. At last month’s East Citizens Advisory Council meeting, for example, a group of east Raleigh residents demanded that the city take action against Gupta, whom they deemed a “slumlord.”
As the meeting minutes describe it:
Land Lord Complaint
o About Mr. Gupta. Would like to officially complain about him as a “SLUM LORD”.
o Residents are very concerned about the murder in one of his rentals.
“This gentleman owned a house that had a stabbing,” says Deborah Ford, the East CAC chairperson. “The neighbors were concerned, even though it was not a random act. The neighbors wanted to have a mass meeting” to discuss booting him from the neighborhood.
And they apparently did, Ford says, though she didn’t attend. (She says Councilor Eugene Weeks did; he has not yet responded to an email the INDY sent him requesting comment.) They wanted to know from the city how they could get Gupta removed from the area, Ford says.
This notion wasn’t something Ford necessarily agreed with: “When you have slumlords, they are needed just as much as a good landlord,” she told the INDY Thursday, “even though they are assholes and cause problems. Someone has to rent to people who aren’t good renters.”
Even so, the neighborhood’s problems with Gupta go back a while. (After his arrest, a few individuals circulated his mugshot on Facebook.) Here’s a story The News & Observer wrote on him in 2013:
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.
This post will be updated as more information becomes available.