Mayor: ‘You are on notice and we are coming for you.’
By Felicia Jordan
WCPPO Channel 9
The City of Cincinnati has filed a lawsuit against the owners of a neglected Hartwell apartment building housing over 1,000 tenants after reports of flooding, lack of heat and rodent infestations went unaddressed by the complex.
Following repeated violations by the Williamsburg Apartment complex, creating what Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval said were “conditions that no human being should live in,” the city will form a task force to address neglect by landlords citywide.
“You are on notice and we are coming for you,” said Pureval.
The task force will operate under the city’s Department of Building and Inspections and will primarily be staffed through that department to enforce housing codes throughout the city, according to Art Dahlberg, director of the department.
Pureval said the task force will focus on landlords with an “unacceptable pattern” of neglect and abuse; he specifically cited complexes owned by out-of-town companies that have purchased property in Cincinnati and manage the buildings from afar.
“We are seeing a pattern of behavior from Williamsburg, we are seeing a pattern of behavior from other institutional investors, where folks from out of town, who have no commitment or true civic investment in Cincinnati come in, buy up large properties, large swaths of single-family homes,” said Pureval. “Often times, both raise rents and lower the standards of living and responsiveness in those communities, preying on our most vulnerable.”
At Williamsburg, tenants themselves were considering filing a lawsuit. On Monday night, they voted to have the Legal Aid Society of Cincinnati represent them in the suit. The City of Cincinnati’s lawsuit was filed Tuesday morning, but that doesn’t stop tenants from filing their own.
Pureval cited two major incidents that spurred the city to act: A water line break at the end of November that left residents without water for four days and additional water issues alongside a lack of heat during the end of December.
During frigid temperatures amid a winter storm that hit the city during the Christmas holiday, residents at the Williamsburg Apartments said they lost heat, followed by burst pipes and flooding. Camryn Brown’s apartment was full of brown water, and water dripped from several spots in her ceiling while parts of the walls had begun to peel. She left the apartment to stay with family.
Ed Cunningham, deputy director of Cincinnati’s Department of Buildings and Inspections, said there are 70 cases involving Williamsburg, with 230 active violations and four orders to vacate.
WCPO emailed the complex’s property management company and reached out to the complex by phone. A few hours later, WCPO received a call from someone who said he was an attorney representing the complex.
“We are aware of the situation at the property,” said David Donnett. “We are cooperating with the city to resolve the citations and all other building issues as quickly as possible.”
Two weeks before the city announced their lawsuit against Herron Property Management, which owns the Williamsburg Apartments, the management company issued a statement about the ongoing issues:
“Herron management is pro-actively working around the clock to restore services to our residents from the bomb cyclone that has so severely affected our city. The flash freeze caused many landlords to deal with broken pipes. As a result, many of our tenants have been offered alternative accommodations during repairs and they’ve been swiftly relocated. We are grateful for the rapid response of Herron management in closely working with city officials and for their work in keeping everyone as safe as possible.”
The apartment building was built in the 1970s, according to the city’s lawsuit, and was already in a state of disrepair when Herron Property Management acquired the property in 2018.
“However, instead of reversing the trend, the decline in conditions and management accelerated over the last five years, leading to conditions that present a serious threat to the health and safety of the community,” the lawsuit says.
The building holds over 976 units and “provides a substantial portion of the housing in the Hartwell neighborhood and an important source of housing in the city,” read the lawsuit.
Anyone renting an apartment in the City of Cincinnati who is experiencing unsafe living conditions should report the issues to 311Cincy, either by dialing 311 or by visiting 311Cincy.com.
Reposted with permission from WCPO 9 Cincinnati.