SPECIAL REPORT: Rental Nightmares

Complaints like this one poured in to NewsChannel 6, so we brought you answers to your rental nightmares.
Complaints like this one poured in to NewsChannel 6, so we brought you answers to your rental nightmares.

***UPDATED THURSDAY, OCTOBER 27, 2016 AT 12:30 P.M.***

AUGUSTA, G.a. (WJBF) – Going home after a long day of work is a dream for some people.  But several Augusta apartment renters describe that feeling as more of a nightmare.  They explained how unresolved maintenance issues lead to dozens of complaints and horrible living conditions.

After receiving several complaints throughout the past year at NewsChannel 6 (some even became stories), we decided it was time for this special report focusing on the problems and the solutions.

We first take a look at Barbara Paul’s situation at Georgia Place Apartments on Wrightsboro Road in Augusta. She learned about our investigation into shoddy apartments from social media and reached out to me.

Here is a snapshot of the notes from Barbara Paul's first verbal complaint about her living conditions to NewsChannel 6.
Here is a snapshot of the notes from Barbara Paul’s first verbal complaint about her living conditions to NewsChannel 6.

 

“Three years I’ve been catching hell in this apartment,” Paul explained as she showed my photographer and I around her place.   It was beautifully decorated, but there were problems and she’s sick of it.

“I cannot lock my door.  No matter what I do, I can’t lock my door,” said Paul, who told me the property manager never repaired the lock after a break-in two years ago.

She pays hundreds a month to live there. However, she wants to break her lease at Georgian Place Apartments when the time comes.

She showed our cameras her bathroom where the sink was also broken during a break-in and subsequent police change indoors.

“All of this was broke.  This part was broke off and they came and put this in and some bugs be down in there.  Some worms,” she said pointing to an exposed ground between her floor and vanity.

That was a two year fix. But there’s more.

“They came and sprayed vinegar and baking soda and said that will get the mold off,” pointing to a bathroom window.

She also has broken bedroom windows, plumbing issues and the horrible smell standing water left behind.  All of it forced Paul to abandon her place and stay in a hotel.

I asked, “So you have made several complaints about your apartment in the past three years?”

“Yes, I have,” she replied.

“And what have they said,” I pressed.

“It’s an old unit.  Work with me,” she replied.

I dug around and discovered that Georgian Place Apartments was first built in 1966 with a renovation in 1990.  NewsChannel 6 uncovered at the Code Enforcement office that out of 32 complaints at Georgian Place, 19 became Code Enforcement cases this year. That is the highest number in Augusta with one of its buildings being condemned.

Charatesa Lowe contacted us in April of 2016 and said her bad apartment at Forest Brook left her homeless.

“I started to notice mold in different areas in my apartment,” she said.  “Fast forward 2016 Renetta, and my son has eight different types of mold in his system.”

Lowe claims her son had an allergic reaction to living in an apartment with mold.
Lowe claims her son had an allergic reaction to living in an apartment with mold.

 

She told us she complained to management and Code Enforcement, who cited the complex last August for a mold issue.  She’s on Section 8 and its inspectors didn’t approve either.  She lost her voucher.

This window shows mold Lowe said her family was exposed to at Forest Brook Apartments.
This window shows mold Lowe said her family was exposed to at Forest Brook Apartments.

 

“The things that they told them to fix like the mold in the wall.  That wasn’t done. They basically stopped the rent. My contract was canceled, which basically left me homeless, my kids and I on the street,” she explained,” she told me.  Lowe also said she tried finding another Section 8 apartment in Columbia County, to no avail.  She then worked to find a home in Richmond County, but the process has been hard and she said the eviction set her back.

NewsChannel 6 found out 32-year-old Forest Brook had 11 complaints to Code Enforcement this year and three became cases.

Bernice Daniely, also on Section 8, got evicted too from Forest Brook after sewage backed up into her place.  She said her landlord put her in a hotel, but blamed the incident on tree branches and kids.

“The stuff was coming out the hot water air conditioning unit out the floor.  It was coming up through the floor.  They patched it for the next tenant,” Daniely said describing the moment her apartment backed up.

We caught up with Daniely at the moment she was walking her envelop of complaints into the Code Enforcement office at the municipal building.  She was fed up and ready to fight.  After sharing her story I pressed her for more information.

“Bottom line this was not your fault,” I said.

“It was not my fault,” she replied.

“These are not your kids?”

“Not my grandkids.  Not my trees,” Daniely explained.

Daniely snapped this photo during the sewage back up into her apartment before she was evicted.
Daniely snapped this photo during the sewage back up into her apartment before she was evicted.

 

She added the complex claimed she forgot to renew her lease and that’s why she’s homeless.   But when she tried taking her complaint to the city, she found out her renter’s insurance didn’t cover sewage.

“I’m not trying to get rich,” she told me.  “This isn’t a get rich scheme.  I just want to be treated fairly.”

Code Enforcement Manager Terrence Wynder worked with me to identify several different apartments with complaints for 2016.  He said Code Enforcement cites apartments when needed, but the office sees cases where renters can report their problems sooner to avoid catastrophes and save money.

He said they see mold, mildew and other things.  “Leaks, plumbing, mechanical problems.”

Planning and Development Director Melanie Wilson told us renters must understand Georgia respects the property owner’s rights detailed in the document you sign before you move in.

“One, they need to get a renters insurance policy and make sure that it covers their contents.  Two, make sure that you understand your lease and your rental agreement,” she said.

But what if you did comply with your lease?  Paul did at Georgian Place.

So, we tried to help her.  We went to speak with Georgian Place’s local management the same day we went inside her apartment.  I was told the manager was not in her office and that I should call later.  I did.  They declined to talk.

Broad Management Group owns Georgian Place Apartments.  It also owns Forest Brook.  So, we called them.  I’m still waiting on that call.

Ray Montana’s nightmare was Fox Den.

“They never did try to fix the mold issue.  They never did address the bed bug infestation.  My kids went to the hospital suffering from respiratory infections.  Hospital bills kept going up.  Medication bills kept going up. They did not want to comply to those demands helping our family out and we’re paying our rent every month,” he explained.

He took the owners to court and won.

“It’s many on the red radar list with Street Justice Council, with my council.  I can name them one-by-one if you’d like me to name them.  We got Maxwell House, we got Trinity Manor,” he said continuing his list.

I continued, building on his list with people who contacted NewsChannel 6 and those who contacted me directly.

“Sierra Point.  Augusta Manor. Richmond Villa.  There are as many as 30 Augusta apartments where renters complained.

Other apartments:

Mt. Zion

West Eagle Green

Glenwood Apartments

Providence Place

Wrightsboro Road Suites

Woodlake Apartments

River Glen

Alpine Villa

Oxford Glenn

Hillcrest Commons

Broad St. Apartments

Maxwell House

Lumpkin Road Apartments

Villa Marie

Trinity Manor

Olde Town Apartments

Wood Wind

Lenox

The Greens

Fleming Heights

Salem Arms

Shadowood Apartments

Madison of the Green

Bon Air

Georgian Place tops that list with 32 complaints to Code Enforcement.

Fox Den and Bon Air are next with 30 and 19 complaints respectively. Fox Den had 16 cases and Bon Air, 18.

Sierra Point, 12 complaints and 10 cases

Millbrook Pointe, 14 complaints and 9 cases

Maxwell House, 8 complaints and 7 cases

Richmond Villa, 8 complaints and 6 cases

Trinity Manor, 4 complaints and 4 cases

Salem Arms 4 complaints and 1 case

River Glen and Peabody both had 1 complaint and 1 case

“Ain’t nobody really want to fight with these people in no courtroom.  People just want to live.  They want to pay their rent, they want to live and come home and have good air conditioning running and good heat running,” Montana expressed.

District 2 Commissioner Dennis Williams weighed in on the issue.  He told me the problem warrants more resources in the name of inspectors.

“Enough complaints from our code enforcement hopefully will change the mind or adjust the attitude of the property owners,” he added.

Here is my short list of how to get rid of your rental nightmares:

  • Your very first complaint should be verbal or written with your apartment complex.
  • Second, contact Code Enforcement at the municipal building.
  • Third, send an official letter documenting your complaints about your apartment at the post office.
  • Fourth, it just might be time to research for a lawyer and take the owners to court.

Jeffrey Peil is an associate attorney who has spoken with several renters.  Two cases have gone to trial.

“The biggest mistake people make is they say my house I can’t live there so, I’m just going to stop paying rent,” he stressed stating that this is a good way to get the judge to rule in favor of the landlord.  He added that talking nastily to the landlord, even if written, also hurts cases.

Peil helped some Augusta renters take their apartment woes to trial. He said old buildings are a fact of life, but he’s not the one who needs convincing.

“We use a jury system in this country,” Peil explained.  So, you have to go to 12 average people in Richmond County and say that this landlord has gone a step too far,” he said.

Renters battling landlords need to document everything, even text messages, according to Peil.  The city wants renters to be smarter about where they plan to live.

Wilson told me during a stop at her office, “Inspect the properties before they move in.  Not get caught up into oh, this is really nice because it has got nice countertops or nice cabinets, but really look at the property and check to see what kind of condition is it in.”

She added, “We’ve seen situations where land lords have put linoleum over the floor that had a hole in it or that was rotted and they didn’t really take time to deal with fixing the problem.  They just massaged it and put some cosmetic on it.  I’ve seen situations where the toilet wasn’t even on a wax ring.  Literally, you could lift it up.”

Code Enforcement stressed contacting your apartment’s property manager first with complaints.  They do welcome inquiries about apartments for those looking to move. To report your property, call 706- 312-5049 and leave your address with the secretary.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

AUGUSTA, G.a. (WJBF) –  In the past year I’ve told a handful of stories about renters dealing with mold, mildew, plumbing problems and the subsequent structure problems that arise from leaks in bathrooms/kitchens.  In every situation, the person renting expressed frustration because the landlord was not cooperating with them.  The stress continued to build because despite the unsatisfactory living conditions, and in some instances unsafe living conditions, rent was still due.

After the first few stories, more phone calls came into the WJBF newsroom.  The individual stories all stemmed from renters in Augusta. Seriously.  I received one call from Burke County and one from McDuffie County.  No doubt, there are some older properties in the Garden City, especially those that are “affordable” to live.  I decided earlier in 2016 to compile some stories and begin investigating the issues and help people find some answers.  As a local renter, I sometimes face the same problems.  Here’s an example.  I won’t name the company, but I experienced issues with my deck at a local apartment (where I no longer reside).  I made several reports verbally about the deck.  Nothing happened.  My next step was to issue the report in writing (along with about six photos) to my property manager.  That did the trick and my deck was replaced shortly after that email was sent. No lawyers.  No court.  No rusted nail in my foot either.

Deck with wooden plank exposing nails is one of many complaints I issued to my landlord.
Deck with wooden plank exposing nails is one of many complaints I issued to my landlord.

 

My story will hopefully show you how you can improve your current living conditions through using the right tools that are available to you.  It also will offer those looking to rent a new perspective.  Change how you hunt for apartments.  It’s not just about the fancy looking appliances and whether they offer a swimming pool.  Dig deep.  For my fellow single ladies, it means digging JUST LIKE you dig around in the background of that new guy you are dating.  INVESTIGATE!  This is where you and possible your family (pet included) will sleep, eat and entertain.  Be wise.

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