“Deplorable” conditions at Roseview Apartments leave 55 residents displaced

SHEILA A. MATHEWS :::

With the revocation of its certificate of occupancy, 55 residents of the Roseview Apartments, located 519 McKneely St., have been displaced.

City of Griffin Chief of Staff Jessica O’Connor said the deadline for residents to move out was 4 p.m. Friday, but the legal saga leading up to that outcome was months in the making.

“They have been serious issues, primarily law enforcement and Code Enforcement issues, over the past three to four years,” she said. “It finally came to a head last year. The property was sold to an out-of-town landlord – he lives in Maryland. He paid $860,000 for these properties.”

That change of ownership occurred in February 2017, and city officials have been working with the current owner – Taurus Bracket – to resolve what has been described as potentially-life threatening safety concerns for more than half that time.

“We had already been working on property maintenance with the previous owner, and we did not know how bad it was. We were getting complaints from tenants was how we got involved,” O’Connor said. “So, we finally – when the property was sold and we talked to this guy who bought them – I talked to him back in August of last year and told him he had a lot of work to do. He seemed very sincere, he said that he was going to get it done. He said he didn’t know how bad they were until he started getting our property maintenance letters, so we waited until September. When he didn’t complete three of the tenant complaints, we wrote him Code Enforcement citations, brought him to court Nov. 9 and told him the repairs had to be done.”

O’Connor stressed that the code violations city officials have been working to resolve are of serious concern and classified as life safety violations.

“Now, these are smoke alarms are not in these apartments; there’s no CO (carbon dioxide) detectors; there’s no central heat, so a lot of these people are using gas space heaters. Some of them are turning on their stove – with no CO detectors and no smoke alarms; they don’t have fire separation in between the units, so there’s no fire retardant. If there’s a fire, which there has been in the past, there’s no fire separation up to the attic, as is required by code. A lot of them are divided without permit, so I think there’s supposed to be like 30 units and now there’s 41.  There have been a lot of appliances installed without permits.”

Authorities say prior to November 2017, the apartment units city officials had inspected involved work that had been improperly done, was not up to code and had been done without the requisite permits.

“When we went to court in November, we did give him an opportunity to fix it. He was found guilty and was told to fix it. If he fixed it, his fine would be cut in half. If he didn’t, he would have to pay the full fine,” O’Connor said. “In March, we still had not had any inspections called in. Well, in February, we filed contempt for not fixing the first three properties because at that point, we’d received eight more tenant complaints, so we’re up to 11 tenant complaints out of 41 units, which we thought was 30 at that time, so almost half at that point.”

Additional court proceedings followed in early March.

“Now, on March 1, he came down from Maryland, and the judge asked us why we had filed for contempt, and we said because none of the repairs had been made. He argued right then, ‘Yes, they have. Y’all just don’t know about it.’ ‘Well, that’s a problem, we said, because type of work has to be permitted and you haven’t pulled any permits,’” she said, before adding the following clarification. “He did pull two permits – Hammond Electric pulled the permits, and they did electric work and plumbing – but they never had it inspected, and it wasn’t the work that needed to be done to bring it up to code. He contested that in court two weeks ago, so we asked for an administrative search warrant to search all of the apartment because at that point, we felt that after having 11 of 30 – at that time, we thought 30 – if 11 of 30 were bad, then we knew more than likely, they were all bad, so we wanted to search all of them.”

Granted an administrative search warrant, numerous officials on March 2 converged on the Roseview Apartment complex, only to discover conditions worse than anticipated, O’Connor said.

“It included the Griffin Housing Authority’s building inspector because we didn’t want it to be the city’s and there to be any bias there since we’d already been dealing with it. So, we brought in the Housing Authority’s building inspector and asked him to do it. He came and wrote a 141-page report on March 2 with all of the violations there, most of which are electrical fire safety issues, that these people cannot live there,” she said. So, we did the inspection on Friday, March 2, which was the Housing Authority inspector, the fire marshal, the Code Enforcement officers, our building inspector and Mr. Brackett, the property owner, were all present at the inspection. They went through all 41 units and checked every single thing that was wrong, so he knew what to expect. And he was there, so he knew it was not going to be a good report.”

O’Connor said until March 2, Griffin officials were unaware of the extent of the danger posed by the apartments’ condition.

“We didn’t know until we got there that all of those issues had occurred and that we were not going to be able to allow anyone to live there. There’s also (an) infestation of rodents so bad that they can’t towel off because their towels are full of feces. They don’t have door knobs on their doors, so they’re using like the innards of the doors to pull them shut at night. They don’t have heat; they don’t have air conditioning. There’s been fires already in the electrical outlets because they aren’t GFI compliant, so they’re already arcing; they’re already causing problems.”

O’Connor said local officials on March 2 made clear how serious these safety issues are and outlined what work must immediately be completed.

“So, when we went on Friday, March 2, we told him he has a huge problem and he needs to begin working immediately. He said he would,” O’Connor said. “So, we sent him an overnight mail last Wednesday that he received last Thursday that said, ‘You have until next Thursday, now being yesterday, to either get enough units up to – not even code, but get those life safety issues corrected – the and we’ll let you move people around as long as the life safety issues are corrected.”

She explained that city officials have been and are continuing to work with Bracket to make every possible effort to rectify the unsafe conditions.

“We know he can’t get all 41 up to code. We know he can’t get all 41 up to life safety code. We were hoping he could do enough to keep there at least those who couldn’t find somewhere else to go. Instead, he came in and painted and did cosmetic stuff that isn’t life safety related,” she said. “When we went back yesterday to do the inspection to decide if we could let some people could stay, he was there. The judge, when we did our search warrant, also required the city to do a cost estimate for what needed to be done and figure out the assessed value of the property.”

In describing the vast extent of life safety code violations, O’Connor outlined the financial details resulting from the judge’s order.

“We did the tax assessor’s appraisal at this point, which the judge said was good enough for him. What he was trying to compare is what it’s worth compared with what it’s going to cost to fix it up, which we do every time in a nuisance abatement proceeding, which we have not filed a nuisance abatement petition. This is just based on the fact that he’s in contempt at this point,” she said. “The cost estimate came back at $656,000.”

O’Connor stressed that $656,000 will only cover bringing the units up to the state minimum. The assessed value stands at $440,000. It would cost an estimated $1.2 million to bring it up to a government-funding level.

“Even going with that, it’s $200,000 more to bring it up to state minimum and over a million to bring it up to any kind of government funded level. So, when we went back yesterday morning (Thursday) and he had not done anything to correct the life safety issues, we asked him to come to court since he was already here,” O’Connor said. “Based on the inspection done yesterday (Thursday), again by the Housing Authority’s building inspector, our building inspector, our fire chief actually went this time, and then our Code Enforcement officers, too, they went through four units and said it was deplorable, and nothing had been done to correct life safety issues. You can tell some work has been done, but it’s all cosmetic work, and we’re not quite sure why. We tried to explain to him in court yesterday, it’s not the cosmetic stuff we’re worried about. They can live there while he does that. He’s got to fix the smoke alarms, the CO detectors, the fire separation, the outlets. We have to cut power to the building because it’s too dangerous.”

Throughout this process, residents were not left in the dark by city officials, as they had been notified of the ongoing legalities and unsafe living conditions.

“The residents also received the letter, I should mention, from last week saying if he didn’t get it corrected, that they would have to move out today at 4, so they knew that last week. Now, I don’t know what he was telling them about getting it fixed and how they were going to be able do that, but they also received the notice this morning saying that he didn’t get it done, so they will have to be out by 4 today,” she said. “We have – the city has – been working with the Housing Authority, with the Red Cross, we’ve called a bunch of the churches around to try and get help, the Salvation Army, as well, so there are some resources for them, but we, as the city, don’t have the ability to relocate them, and because it is a landlord/tenant property, under the federal Relocation Act, the landlord is responsible.”

Meanwhile, city officials were again present at the Roseview Apartments Friday.
The city’s building inspector was working to assist Bracket to determine if temporary electrical power could be restored to some units to enable work to continue.

“Our building inspector went to determine which ones could be left on for temporary power, as long as it was safe, so that he could work on them. That’s sort of where we are,” O’Connor said. “It’s been a long couple of days, a very sad couple of days. This is not one of those where it’s like, oh, you’ve got some wiring that’s done incorrectly, or you have a water heater installed incorrectly, so we’re revoking your CO. No way. We’re not in the business of putting 55 people on the street. We have no desire to do this. We all know how big of a deal this is and we did not want to do this, but we have a two-year-old living in one of these units with open wiring everywhere. Everywhere. It’s been an awful few days.”

There is a bit of confusing circulating, with misinformation abounding on the current status of the complex.

“We have not condemned it. People get that confused all the time because condemnation means we took title to it, because when you condemn, you take title immediately. We did not condemn it. We don’t want to condemn it. We want to work with this guy so that he can get it fixed up, and it can be a great senior living facility or whatever it is he wants it to be. Right now, it’s just in the property maintenance status. We have not even filed a nuisance abatement petition on it. If he doesn’t do it voluntarily – get it fixed up – then we will do that, but we don’t think we’re to that stage yet because I think he wants to fix it up, I’m just not sure he understands. Well, I think he does now, but up until yesterday, I don’t think he understood what all that actually entails,” she said. “He’s been very nice in court. He’s been very understanding, compassionate and polite.”

Officials are also working closely with residents to assist them in a variety of ways and with multiple concerns.

“We do know that a lot of them were concerned about being able to get all of their stuff out. A lot of them had U-Hauls, and I think help from family. The (police) chief sent out an email this afternoon just saying people can go back and get stuff. Normally, when you revoke a CO, you’re not allowed to be there unless it is strictly to work actually – you can’t be there unless you’re working – so we are trying to make sure we’re being as extremely easy as possible to work with as possible. We’ve asked the PD to make extra stops by there – to be extra compassionate with people – and say what can we help you with? What can we take somewhere?” O’Connor said. “But that doesn’t mean people can be around the area hanging out.”

The city is also taking steps to ensure tenants will not be responsible for utilities during the repair process.

“The power and water were cut today,” she said, adding that tenants’ accounts have been discontinued. Tenants will be allowed to return upon resolution of life safety issues. Upon their return, the utilities will be put back in their names. There will be no reconnection fees or new deposits required.

“If there are any units he (Bracket) wants cut on, he’ll have to pay for them,” O’Connor said. “We’re trying to do every possible thing we can for these tenants because this is not their fault. At all.”

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