Judge issues ultimatum to Southeast Memphis apartments riddled with code violations

Judge issues ultimatum to Southeast Memphis apartments riddled with code violations
(Source: WMC Action News 5)
(Source: WMC Action News 5)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A judge ordered a beleaguered Southeast Memphis apartment complex to fix all remaining code violations within one week and submit a preventative maintenance plan within two weeks.

Shelby County Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter issued the orders after testimony Wednesday indicated Eden at Watersedge Apartments, 2774 S. Mendenhall Road in Fox Meadows, had been making headway in repairing or replacing the air conditioning of 75 tenants who have been without it for weeks or months. Memphis City Code Enforcement Supervisor Anthony Muhammad told Potter that number may have been as high as 80. He also testified of 20 current complaints against the complex, 13 are without air conditioning.

"We're not prepared to sign off on any of the repairs," said Muhammad. "We found out that they had not pulled any permits for some of the repairs."

Muhammad added that additional issues -- including ceiling leaks, plumbing, raw sewage and electrical failures like the one that caused the fire that forced tenant Antwaun Williams out of his apartment four hours after he finally got a working air conditioner -- have also not been addressed.

"It is very rare and unreasonable to have 80 units that have not been repaired in a workman-like manner," Muhammad said.

"If there had been a properly maintained schedule of pressing matters, then we should not have had 80 (units without air conditioning)," Potter said to the apartment complex's attorney, Bruce Feldbaum. "I want to see a plan of prevention. I want to see it in writing and what your client intends to do to keep this from happening again."

Feldbaum, who also represents the complex's corporate owner -- New Life Core Willow Lake LLC of Bloomington, Minnesota -- said his client's air conditioning contractors are only required to pull permits on air conditioning replacements, not repairs, and they failed to pull the permit on only one replacement.

"We have safeguards in that the tenants have been provided (temporary) window units," Feldbaum said. "My client has also hired two third-party vendors who are professionally licensed and in good standing. They will continue to make sure all repairs and replacements are as current as necessary."

Williams has been displaced since the July 26 electrical fire. He said Feldbaum and the apartments' managers have offered him another apartment plus one month's free rent, but negotiations continue.

"I would like them to worry more about their tenants," Williams said. "Because that's what makes them money. If this is just a money business, what about us?"

Tenant Brittany Jackson, who has been without central air since the first week of May, said the complex's maintenance staff has installed a window unit as a stopgap. She's cautiously optimistic that Eden at Watersedge will make good on a preventative maintenance plan.

"Moving forward as tenants, we'll have a better experience, but that's only if they come up with a solution, stick to it and actually carry it out," Jackson said.

In addition to remaining on the front-burners of Memphis code enforcement and Shelby County Environmental Court, Eden at Watersedge is in trouble with the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South, which gave the apartment complex an F rating for 44 complaints regarding maintenance and neglect of its properties and tenants.

"Toilets overflowing, mold and mildew, air conditioning not working," said bureau President Randy Hutchinson. "We've even asked them to address what we thought was a pattern of complaints, and they didn't do that."

The WMC Action News 5 Investigators have been unable to locate a phone number or email contact for the apartment complex's Minnesota-based owner. According to Shelby County property assessor records, the Minnesota-based owner is enrolled in the Memphis Health, Educational and Housing Facility Board's PILOT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes) program. It's a financial incentive program that allows qualifying property companies to obtain a low-cost lease, then title the property in the board's name. Board staff confirmed it is investigating the property owner to see if its maintenance failures may have violated its PILOT lease.

"Our Executive Director, Martin Edwards, personally walked the property this morning with the owner's regional maintenance supervisor and was encouraged by the sustained efforts to provide safe and sanitary housing to the residents," said board spokeswoman Lauren Magallanes. "We are expecting a report from management on all current property findings, including air conditioning replacement and repair, as well as continuing communications with code enforcement."

The case resumes in Shelby County Environmental Court Wednesday, August 9.

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