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I-TEAM: Violations, citations, and crime are just a few problems at Azalea Park Apartments

Published: Oct. 22, 2020 at 6:39 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - A five-month I-Team investigation into one address uncovers hundreds of crime reports and hazardous code violations.

It’s also home to hundreds of local families.

Some families say they are stuck because they’re unable to return to their condemned building. One property owner is collecting thousands of your tax dollars every single month.

The pandemic is forcing even more families to the brink of poverty. Families and children say they are in need of safe and affordable housing, and tell the I-Team they weren’t getting that at Azalea Park Apartments in Augusta.

It was supposed to be a short trip for Marqueya Frazier and Lindsey McCain.

“This ain’t no vacation I would want,” Frazier said.

"I know, McCain replied. “This is a terrible one.”

After four months in two local motels, both are ready to go home. The problem?

They cant. Their building is condemned.

“So it’s like just one, one slap in the face after another,” Frazier said.

On June 25, the couple woke up to chaos and smoke in their Azalea Park Apartment , thanks to a neighbor’s early morning cooking accident.

“Three or four firefighters telling me, ‘Get out! The buildings on fire,’” Frazier said.

Both got a new lease on life, but Frazier says she’s still stuck with her old lease.

“I’m still locked into a lease with them until November the fifth of this year,” Frazier said. “My lease will be up.”

"Even if we don’t live in the apartment, they’re still asking for rent, McCain said.

We asked, “how can they ask for rent, if you don’t live there due to the building being condemned?”

“It was the same question we had, but they didn’t give us no direct answer,” McCain said.

For a couple of months, we couldn’t get an answer from management at Azalea Park, either. Then, they finally agreed to go on camera with us because this isn’t the only allegation we’ve uncovered. Since thousands of your tax dollars go there every month in the form of section 8 vouchers, we wanted to get answers for you, but especially for the people who live there.

In June, we asked the Augusta Housing Authority just how many section 8 vouchers they issued for Azalea Park. The answer was 111. That’s 111 separate families paying one owner thousands of your taxpayer money every month.

Families sent us photos of damages, but most complaints to us were about temperature.

The conditions were enough for many to protest, but it was cut short when staff members called Richmond County deputies.

We went to work, and here’s what we uncovered: 240 code enforcement violations since 2015. 144 of them are just in the last 2 years.

Some are relatively minor like “repair ceiling,” but then we found more complicated ones like a plumbing system with “improper installation, deterioration, or damage,” exposed wires, and rotting wood

As for the heating and air complaints, code enforcement confirms that would fall under this violation. Other appliances do, too, but we’re told “most of that is A/C issues.” In all, we counted 28 different violations.

“My countertops were not finished. Nothing,” Frazier said. “Nothing they told me there was going to get done never it never got done.”

At least it was liveable.

After the “extensive fire damage”, code enforcement called it “unfit for human occupancy.”

“I worked so hard to get that apartment and to keep paying my rent and stuff on time, and to have this happen,” Frazier said. “I feel like the bottom just fell out.”

Meanwhile, violations weren’t the only things piling up. Citations were, too.

The property manager would now have to face a judge in magistrate court.

The next step is that code enforcement would shut the place down, asking commissioners to “to take action against their business license.”

We also heard from a couple in Texas who came all the way to Augusta to check on a family member living at Azalea Park on Section 8 vouchers.

They were “appalled at the ‘collasping ceiling, mold-ridden carpets, and roaches.’” They claimed it had been going on for months and the family member “has fallen more than 15 times.”

That’s not why they reached out.

Apparently, a maintenance person left a list of work orders in the apartment.

“I was stunned to see over a hundred work orders describing failed inspections, mold, inoperative appliances, doors, windows, etc. Apparently, their scheduling system is based on texts from tenants, so you see verbiage like, ‘When will you return?’ and ‘I am reporting again...’”

That brings us to October 7, where, for the first time, Azalea employees invited us in, answered a few questions off-camera, and promised to give our cameras a look at their new HVAC units the following week.

After multiple texts and phone calls, no one ever made good on that promise.

We kept digging and found Azalea Park isn’t just known to code enforcement. Richmond County deputies are also frequent visitors.

We combed through more than a year of crime data and found Azalea Park is one of the biggest nuisance properties in Augusta, making the top 10 hot spots for crime call-outs month after month.

In 2019 alone, there were 473 total calls to the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.

By October of this year, there were already 405 calls ranging from suspicious activity, domestic violence, noise disturbances, thefts, vandalism, burglaries, and even multiple calls for firearms, and sexual assaults.

On top of that, Azalea Park hasn’t always been in good standing with yet another government agency. Records show the Augusta Housing Authority barred the property from receiving government benefits from 2013 until 2016 when the property was sold.

It was sold again in 2018. According to its own website, the current owner, Sureste Property Group, is based in Decatur and owns 12 properties in Georgia.

Azalea Park is its only local property.

Code enforcement confirms things are getting better and problems are getting fixed. But Azalea Park isn’t off the hook just yet.

We were able to confirm Azalea Park released Marqueya Frazier from her lease and she doesn’t owe any rent money after the fire. She was happy to hear that and says she is working to get her security deposit back, hopefully to use for another apartment.

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