Having dealt with delays and “Band-Aids” on vital repairs and maintenance for years, some tenants at James Crossing apartments in Lynchburg are taking the legal route to ensure their housing rights are met.
For Tandeka Stevens, who’s lived in her apartment for about seven years, the main issues are a water-damaged and unusable kitchen cabinet from leaking pipes and lingering mold all around her bathroom.
“I have never had as many problems then like I’m having now,” she said. “It’s really getting out of hand.”
In the last month or so, she said, her landlord has finally gotten a roach problem under control after multiple treatments, but she remains concerned for her own health and the health of her young children and grandchildren living with her — especially as they stay at home all day during the pandemic.
On top of those pressing issues are other, smaller ones: dilapidated and rusting vent units, crumbling window caulking and chipping paint in the tub that precludes any baths. Stevens said many repairs don’t last and only serve as “Band-Aids” on the real problems.
“These are not appropriate living situations here and it’s unfair that we have to live like this,” she said.
Three James Crossing residents each filed individual lawsuits in September, asking Lynchburg Circuit Court to intervene and make the landlord repair similar maintenance issues, including mold. They allege management has overcharged their rent, which is income-based, and hasn’t responded in a timely way to requests for their tenant records.
Atlantic Housing Foundation, a Dallas-based nonprofit that manages affordable housing complexes, bought James Crossing in March 2019. The suits name its Virginia offshoot dedicated to James Crossing as the defendant.
Beyond the court intervention for repairs, the lawsuits demand James Crossing provide the tenants with their records when requested, abate their rent and pay between $15,000 and $18,000 to each tenant in damages.
Stevens is not among the three plaintiffs but has been in contact with Lydia Turnier, the attorney representing them, for about a year now. Turnier is in touch with around seven active clients, many with identical issues in different buildings.
Bryan Grimes Creasy, the attorney representing James Crossing in the cases, said he was not authorized to comment. Messages left at Atlantic Housing’s Dallas office were not returned.
Since James Crossing, on Greenfield Drive, is a low-income housing complex under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and receives subsidies, its management “takes on additional responsibilities” that it hasn’t met, the complaints allege.
Dominique Hubbard is one of the three plaintiffs; she has seen a history of mold issues and her bathroom ceiling collapsed in September, according to her complaint. Her unit also had pests, leaking water that accumulated on the floor, exposed wires and carpet that needed replacing.
Both she and Stevens mentioned a lack of response when calling in to resident managers for maintenance requests. It wasn’t until the lawsuits came into play after Turnier wrote letters to management that any action has been taken, they said.
In a Sept. 25 order from Lynchburg Circuit Judge Fred Watson, James Crossing was ordered to provide hotel rooms for the plaintiffs while making some of the repairs and creating plans for others, and provide Turnier with requested records and account ledgers.
Turnier said the management seems motivated to comply with the requirements and “want[s] to do what’s right” but is likely balancing the needs of tenants with financial interests. After some of the repairs were made in the fall, her clients reported that new leaks and issues have sprung up — indicating the need for substantial building rehabilitation.
Atlantic Housing brought a $10 million renovation plan with proposed funding through tax credits and bonds to Lynchburg City Council in October 2019. There was no set timeline to the project, and a message left for Lynchburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority inquiring about where that funding process stands was not returned as of press time.
Hubbard said James Crossing moved her to another unit in November where mold was also a problem. When she came back to her original unit to find that the mold was still there.
She was looking for another place to live by August and found another landlord willing to work with her, moving into a new place with her kids last month.
Others haven’t been so lucky. Stevens said she doesn’t want to relocate to another apartment in the complex and when she does move, it’ll be a definitive one to an entirely different location.
“If they expect tenants to act a certain way or be in compliance … then they should have to be in compliance just as well, with the upkeep of the apartment,” she said.
The three lawsuits are still active; nothing has been filed in the cases since responses in early October that deny any negligence or overcharging rent.
Turnier said that the cases will continue since her clients “are still entitled to damages for being put in this situation to begin with.”