Zachary Linhares, a journalist, reports on the ongoing issue of illegal rooming houses in the city of St. Louis. Cuong Q. Tran, a landlord who owns multiple properties in the city, has been accused of violating building codes and running illegal rooming houses. The city has filed a lawsuit against him, and this may be the beginning of the end for other problematic landlords as well.

Trash lines the alley behind an apartment complex owned by Cuong Q. Tran on Neosho Street. The City of St. Louis has taken legal action against a woman named Dara Daugherty, who has been running a series of illegal rooming houses in the city for years. She is not the only one, as there are other landlords who have been violating building codes for a long time. John McLaughlin, a former police officer and current program manager with the Nuisance and Problem Properties Unit of the city’s Building Division, says that there are a handful of landlords who know how to make money off this process and are not concerned about enforcement.

One of the things these landlords seem to disregard is having warrants out for their arrest. For some, it is just the cost of doing business. Daugherty had 32 warrants out for her arrest at one point, while Tran currently has a dozen. According to McLaughlin, Tran operates similarly to Daugherty, except he does not rent out boarding houses. He owns several properties in south St. Louis and pushes the system for money.

Ed Ware, who has been with the Building Division for over 40 years, says that Tran is just one level above Daugherty, which is not saying much given the conditions in her properties.

Tran owns at least seven buildings in south city, with a total of around 200 apartments, all of which have a long list of complaints. For instance, a three-story, 12-unit apartment building on Neosho Street has received 26 complaints with the Citizens Service Bureau since 2020. A few blocks away, a 33-unit apartment building owned by Tran has seen 23 complaints in the same time frame. Additionally, a 64-unit apartment complex near the intersection of Chippewa and Meramec streets has accumulated 18 complaints, including rat infestations, raw garbage, and bed bugs.

While not all complaints lead to building code violations, a source familiar with Tran’s operation says that his properties have generated multiple violations in recent years, many of which have been referred to municipal court. For instance, his apartment building at 4604 Morgan Ford has more than 10 cases currently in the municipal court system.