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Billings building owner claims 'squatter' living in his commercial space

Posted at 6:57 PM, May 08, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-09 12:43:56-04

BILLINGS – A Billings property owner says he’s trying to gain possession of his own property from what he calls a serial squatter in a conflict that has dragged on for over two years.

Allen Rice purchased a large commercial building in the Billings BIRD district at 1140 First Ave. N. roughly two years ago, wanting to turn the structure into affordable housing.

The Billings Fire Department flagged the building and Rice for lacking proper fire suppression. The violation meant his idea of a boarding house was abandoned after Rice realized the cost to install a sprinkler system was too high.

Instead he filled the building with commercial tenants, including retail and even a podcast studio.

“Thirty-three units. We’ve got a mixed bag of different tenants,” said Rice.

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MTN News

He says for the most part, the property is operating well.

But taking up space in two large units, 3 and 7, Rice says one tenant will not leave after refusing to pay rent for over a year.

“I have got this one tenant,” said Rice. “Who is the source of so much mischief.”

Rice says he’s been unsuccessful in a civil case to evict the tenant, Jarvis Carter, because it's stuck in district court. He says it’s been a year and still no hearing date.

Inside the units are mounds of what Rice says he believes are stolen goods.

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And at one time, Rice believes Carter was sleeping in the unit, which he says was not allowed.

“Let’s call a spade a spade. It's crime, full-time,” said Rice. “It’s a fencing operation, scamming stuff on eBay and marketplace that sort of thing."

Those with Billings police tell MTN News officers have investigated Rice’s reports and acted on ones with sufficient evidence for follow-up. They did not confirm that Carter's activity in the unit is criminal.

Carter was arrested and booked into Yellowstone County Detention Facility April 29 for allegedly failing to appear on a warrant, which is unrelated to the dispute with Rice. According to federal court records, Carter spent time in jail for felony forgery and issuing bad checks in the early 2000s. In the years following, Carter drafted lawsuits against the Montana Department of Corrections, The Crossroads Correctional Center, Yellowstone County and the Montana Office of Probation and Parole, citing violations of civil rights in regard to due process.

Carter has also filed a lawsuit against Rice, alleging the building where he's staying is unsafe and hazardous.

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Carter spoke with MTN News off camera in late April, before his arrest, and shared a stack of court documents and files that he says outline his grievances against Allen.

Carter admits he stopped paying his rent, but he disagrees with the notion he is squatting and instead says he’s been deducting much-needed repairs to the unit, which ultimately caused damage to his business inventory.

Carter alleges the property is unsafe because the roof is leaking, the building has electrical problems and the space being rented to tenants is clearly not up to state codes.

In the lawsuit, Carter is seeking $21,800 in damages but told MTN News that the amount has increased as the conflict continues.

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MTN News

Rice says he’s also out monetary damages. 

“The loss of money isn’t even the most painful part,” he said. “The most painful part is the escalation of tension, it’s the blackmail and the threats to me and my family. It’s the extortion that he wants me to pay him to leave.”

Those escalations include, Rice locking out Carter out of the building and Carter coming back with bolt cutters to get back in.

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As Rice awaits a hearing in district court on the matter, he says his once future to help revitalize the BIRD district of Billings are dead due to red tape and what he calls Carter’s abuse of the legal system.

“After two years of struggling with this, it’s just not worth doing anymore from the private sector side of things,” he said.

Carter tells MTN News he’s confident he will prevail in his lawsuit against Rice.