I-TEAM: Code violations leave renters in unlivable conditions

Published: Nov. 15, 2021 at 7:21 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Raw sewage leaks, holes in the ceiling where smoke detectors should be, no hot water, or air, and bath tubs — that back up with other tenants used water. Imagine living in conditions like this, and paying hundreds of dollars a month for that ‘privilege’. Our I-Team found hundreds of violations — in some cases, more than a decade of documented problems for some of Augusta’s biggest nuisance properties.

We spoke with Richmond County Code Enforcement Manager Terrence Wynder about the ongoing issues. “A couple of these properties have over 200 violations, at what point would you take it before the commission to make a decision on whether they should have a business license or not?” asked Laura Warren. “That’s a good question.”

Our I-Team uncovered more than 700 violations stacked up at these three properties in Richmond County over the past three years alone — Pine View Mobile Home Park, the Enclave Apartments, and Azalea Park Apartments.

  • 2036 Gordon Highway: Pine View Mobile Home Park: 279 violations
  • 1011 River Ridge Dr.: Enclave Apts.: 236 violations
  • 1814 Fayetteville Dr.: Azalea Park Apts. 206 violations

Our I-Team found in each case the property manager was repeatedly cited, but never the owner. And, even with hundreds of violations on file, we found all three business licenses active — in good standing. That is — until our I-Team started asking questions— and now changes are being made after we exposed a long distance hurdle, crippling the process.

It’s a little eerie driving through Pine View Mobile Home park. Some of the trailers have been abandoned for so long, mother nature is starting to reclaim them. But every now and then you’ll spot signs of life.

“We got a pipe there that’s busted. Sewage leaking. We got a gnat problem in there because of that,” said Clint Kitchens, who lives at Pineview Mobile Home Park.

Over the past three years our I-Team found Pine View mobile home park racked up 279 code enforcement violations and that’s just the documented ones. Clint Kitchens knows there are more.

“What does code enforcement say when they come out?” News 12′s Laura Warren asked. “I haven’t told them. Because I don’t want to get evicted. If they come in here and find these violations... we don’t have nowhere to go,” said Kitchens.

“It puts us between a rock and a hard place, because on one end, we want something done, but you have to look at the families that could potentially be displaced because of that type of action,” said Terrence Wynder, Richmond County Code Enforcement Manager.

Code enforcement has slowly condemned the properties at Pineview Mobile Home Park, one by one. But it’s taken more than 10 years for the process to play out. And those abandoned, empty eye sores are still there. Back in 2012, the death of a five-month-old, spurred action at Pine View Mobile home park after a baby died in a trailer. The coroner said he was covered in roach and rodent bites.

We spoke to code enforcement about the issues back then. Pam Costabile, the Code Enforcement Manager at that time, told us many of the mobile homes were not up to code.

“A large majority of the mobile homes do not meet the minimum requirements,” said Code Enforcement Manager Pam Costabile. “Those are the things that are basic and necessary – you need to have hot and cold running water,” Costabile said.

Nine years later – and the problems persist.

“We got a leakage over here the other side. We told them about it. Ain’t fixed that. Our toilet, we have to pour water in our toilet. We can’t flush it. Have to pour water in to flush it,” said Kitchens.

But every month Kitchens, pays his $490 in rent so he and his cousin, who’s dying of cancer, have a roof and running water — sometimes, even hot water.

“We had to pay $200 something dollars to fix our own hot water heater,” said Kitchens.

“You paid that?” Laura Warren asked.

“Yes ma’am,” he said. “I just paid to fix it. I didn’t take nothing off the rent. Because I was scared of getting evicted. I didn’t want to get evicted.”

Our I-Team found a documented pattern of problems spanning years for this property under the owner Waterman Florence Trust out of Los Angeles.

“Since I’ve been manager, we have not taken a property thus far to take action against a business license. Although we are close, I have not,” said Wynder.

Our I-team found Azalea Park Apartments has racked up 206 code enforcement violations in three years.

“I couldn’t stay there any longer. It was unlivable,” said Garian Henry, a former Azalea Park Apartment tenant.

Code enforcement agreed. They condemned her apartment — but that meant, Henry had to find another place for her family to stay.

“It saddens me because people force themselves to live that way to keep from being homeless,” said Henry.

People like Tawana Lewis — who lived at Azalea Parks for three years.

“I don’t wanna get emotional about it because it’s how I have to live, but it’s just too much,” said Lewis.

She lived without heating or air for about a year.

“100 degrees. Freezing. They gave me this old heater out of the office. Code Enforcement said that was not acceptable at all,” said Lewis.

And that wasn’t even her biggest issue.

“When they bathe next door to me, their water come up into my tub. I have to cut the hot water on with the pliers,” she said.

The code violations stacked up so high in her apartment, with continued failed inspections — the Housing Authority pulled the plug on her housing assistance payments.

“There are so many families that are in this situation. And, nobody is saying anything. Nobody is bringing it to the open,” said Henry. “These landlords do not feel accountable for the upkeep of their properties. They’re getting away with it.”

Citation after citation addressed to the property managers. While the owners, in most cases, go unscathed, hundreds — or even thousands of miles away.

“Nine times out of ten, the owner, the corporate office are going to be located out of town,” said Wynder.

“Can you not cite them if they’re out of town? Can you not serve them or mail it to them?,” said Laura Warren.

“Some cities do, but it all depends on what the judge in this jurisdiction would allow,” said Wynder.

Right now our I-Team found Richmond County does not cite out of town property owners for code violations. Even if the problems persist.

“So, if you can’t cite the owners…,” said Laura Warren.

“The only person you have locally is the apartment manager or the park manager. Those are the only people we can go against is them,” said Wynder.

With each code enforcement violation carrying up to $1,000 fine and a year in jail, the stakes are pretty high. That would be $279,000 worth of violations in three years for Pine View Property managers to shoulder, alone. Which could be one reason management doesn’t stick around.

Terrence: “Whoever we issue the citation to, that is the responsible party.”

Laura: “I’m not sure the teeth are behind it when the property managers — don’t necessarily have the money to fix this stuff.”

Terrence: “They don’t.”

Laura: “So they’re facing down jail time when are they aren’t really even the problem?”

Terrence: “It’s the owner is the problem. But what other way can we get the owner to step up to the plate?”

Since we started asking questions — changes started happening. And, code enforcement DID recently take action against Azalea Park Apartments business license. They are now on probation with the city. We reached out to Sureste Property Services who manages the property — and they say they are ‘working diligently to resolve all pending matters’. If they can’t get everything up to code, the city could pull their business license. Commissioners are expecting an update Tuesday.

At Pine View mobile home park, a judge recently ruled, since the owner is taking so long, the city can bulldoze the trailers and bill the out of state owner. But, that owner now has another six months to get it done before the bulldozers can get started – all the while his business license with the city stays active.