11/28/05 — Owners decide not to attempt repairs

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Owners decide not to attempt repairs

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on November 28, 2005 1:49 PM

Charles Brown and the other tenants at 300 Randall Lane will have to shop for new homes along with their Christmas presents this year.

Tenants at the condemned apartment complex where he lives recently received another letter from their landlord. This one informed them that the buildings are unsalvageable and will be demolished.

The news came less than two weeks after the City Council granted property owners Calvin Hodgin and Mike Pate a 90-day extension to bring the buildings up to code.

Hodgin and Pate guaranteed councilmen that if they were granted the extension, work on the buildings would get done. The tenants, skeptical that such a tremendous amount of work could be completed in that time, resumed their daily lives, hoping the council had made the right decision.

Brown said the letter couldn't have come at a worse time.

"The letter said we have 30 days to move out," he said. "Now, a lot of the money I was supposed to spend on Christmas for my kids is gonna go toward finding a new place to live."

Hodgin and Pate offered the tenants a refund -- October and November rent and their security deposits back -- to help them finance their search for new living quarters.

Brown said that was not enough to compensate the families for the stress they have been through since the condemnation discussions began.

"Most of us held out on November's rent because we didn't think it was right to pay for a condemned apartment," he said.

News that there were problems at the apartment complex was not a surprise to the residents, they said. Many of them had already complained about conditions there.

But when the condemnation was approved by Goldsboro City Council in October, the tenants received a letter from their landlord telling them not to worry, that their apartments were safe, the complex would not be demolished, and they should continue paying rent.

On Nov. 7, they took their concerns to the city council meeting.

Brown, representing the dozen residents in attendance, spoke about the conditions at the complex and what the tenants said was mismanagement and misinformation from the owners.

William Kornegay is one of those tenants. He and his five children live in one of the condemned apartments. He said he and his children went all summer without air conditioning.

"I asked Mr. Hodgin since June to come fix it," he said. "And you know, he didn't fix it until a few weeks ago, the day before that man came and put up those condemned signs."

Kornegay added that none of his windows have screens. So, when the apartment was too hot for comfort, he couldn't leave the windows open for fear bugs would swarm inside his home.

When he told Hodgin that he needed screens and his air conditioner fixed, he said he was told to go do it himself.

According to the minimum housing standard, living quarters without screens or functioning air conditioners are in violation.

Kornegay recalled one night when his 7-year-old daughter was so uncomfortable in the heat that she opened the window.

"My daughter is allergic to bees and knows not to open the windows because there are a lot of them around here," he said. "On the night before her first day of school, she couldn't sleep because the heat was so bad, and (she) opened her bedroom window. What if a bee had flown in and stung her? She took a chance with her life because it was so uncomfortable in here."

Kornegay said there were other hazards at the apartment.

"The leaking in here was so bad for a while that I had to use a (wet-dry) vacuum 30 times a day," he said. "And two or three times a day, my kids would walk into the bathroom and fall because it was so slick in there with all that water."

Kornegay then pointed out the mildew stains he says were caused by the leak.

Another resident, Christopher Boykin, has bug problems.

Holes in the walls, cracks in the floors and deteriorating seals around the sink and bathtub let the insects inside the apartment.

"I had to seal up all the holes in my walls and the cracks in the floor with aluminum foil," Boykin said. "My kids and I can't even sleep until we're sure we've found all the bugs."

Boykin said he has other problems. The lights flicker on and off, an issue he has taken up with Hodgin and gotten nowhere, he said.

Brown and the other tenants on Randall Lane are working class people, they say. They hold jobs, send their children to school and do the best they can with what they've got, he said.

Brown said he pays $375 per month to live in conditions that were bad when he moved in and have deteriorated since.

Holes in kitchen cabinets, leaky plumbing, poor wiring and malfunctioning air conditioners and heaters have him concerned, and he said his landlord rarely responds to work orders, even in emergency situations.

"He (Hodgin) never does work around the complex," Brown said. "I have continuously asked that these problems get fixed."

Sometimes, Brown added, when he and his children walk into a room and turn on the lights, roaches scatter across the walls and floor.

And, when he and other family members do the dishes, water-bugs are often swimming in soapy water in the sink.

Angela Armstrong has carpet problems. She said she has lived in the complex for years and that despite multiple requests, she has never received new carpet.

She said she has also been concerned about a bothersome smell surrounding the buildings, especially in the rear near the vacant apartments.

"The building always smells horrible, like raw sewage or something," Mrs. Armstrong said.

The vacant apartments don't have doors. Instead, large wooden boards cover the openings.

Inside, holes in the sheet rock walls and mildew stains are the least troubling problems, tenants said. Many of the ceilings hang down above rubble, nails, rusted out appliances, leaves, broken glass and animal feces on the floor.

Kornegay and Boykin, live upstairs with their children. Minimum housing inspector Thomas Pridgen said they face serious health hazards from conditions below.

During a recent walk-through of the apartments, Pridgen cited numerous code violations.

In five of the apartments, Pridgen recommended replacing all windows and sheet rock, removing mold and mildew and installation of entry doors. Other problems included rotten framing, major leaks and floor coverings that needed to be removed and replaced.

To pass inspection, the five apartments also required the signature of a contractor for electrical, mechanical and plumbing items.

Pridgen's minimum housing checklist also showed repairs needed in the other apartments. Apartment 19 had bad floor coverings and sheet rock, mold, rotten framing and no entry door. All windows also needed to be replaced, Pridgen said.

Apartment 8 had water damage in the ceiling and on interior coverings, Apartment 7 had a leak above the stove, bad sheet rock above the bathtub, a sewage backup and questionable electrical integrity.

Others had water damage, rotten cabinets and electrical problems.

Mayor Al King said news that the owners had decided not to repair the buildings but demolish them instead will weigh on his mind the next time an extension is requested by the owner of a condemned building.

He added, however, that the council has an unspoken agreement to grant extensions to all owners who make such a request.

"In this situation, once they (Pate and Hodgin) looked at the work necessary to bring the buildings up to code they determined it wasn't economically feasible," King said.

Repeated attempts to reach Pate and Hodgin were unsuccessful.