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Suit: Landlord ignored crime, concealed hazards

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Posted at 6:00 AM, Dec 16, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-16 06:14:15-05

CINCINNATI -  A homicide. A sexual battery. A fire. A collapsed roof. More than 2,700 police calls for service.

These are among the worst problems on a troubling list of crimes and living conditions that city of Cincinnati attorneys say have plagued hundreds of residents of six low-income apartment communities  in Avondale, English Woods and Walnut Hills.

The buildings' owner -- PF Holdings LLC of New Jersey – is the target of a city lawsuit claiming the investors have ignored criminal activity, kept police from entering the buildings to investigate crimes and have “willfully” concealed building hazards to cover up unsafe living conditions.

The properties include: Entowne Apartments at 3652 Reading Road in Avondale,  Burton Apartments at 1000 Burton St. in Avondale, and The Alms apartments at 2525 Victory Parkway in Walnut Hills, Shelton Gardens at 2000 Westwood Northern Boulevard in English Woods, Reids Valley apartments at 1990 Westwood Northern Boulevard in English Woods, and St. Claire Manor at 705  Reading Road in Avondale.

On Wednesday, PF Holdings is due in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court for a hearing to determine whether the apartments' management should be handed over to a receiver to manage rents and address the problems.

In 2013, the firm purchased the properties in a larger buy-up of 12 low-income apartment communities in the city. Since then, the six listed in the lawsuit have fallen onto the city's chronic nuisance for a host of building and health code violations.

That's in spite of receiving more than $5.3 million annually from taxpayers to cover most of the rents for more than 800 Cincinnati residents living in the communities who pay at least 30 percent of their income toward their rent.

  WCPO spent months this year covering the impact of problem properties on tenants, neighborhoods and the regulators who are struggling to keep track of them.  Read the entire eight-part series here. 

PF Holdings attorney Steven Rothstein told WCPO last month that the owners have invested "hundreds of thousands of dollars" to repair a host of issues they inherited when they purchased the properties more than two years ago.

"Every spare dollar that the ownership has over and above the mortgage, taxes and insurance is being devoted to maintenance," Rothstein said.

A chair and some trash sit in a stairwell in Entowne Manor (Phil Didion for WCPO).

Rothstein says a negligent property manager hired by PF Holdings to maintain the properties is largely to blame. That firm has since been replaced by Skyview Property Group and "substantial progress has been made in addressing all of the most serious allegations related to safety and security," Rothstein said.

"We're getting on top of the remaining issues," he added.

City of Cincinnati attorney Mark Manning said he disagrees.

“The properties themselves, there hasn’t been a drastic change one way or the other,” said Manning, told WCPO. Following an inspection of the properties earlier this month, the city has issued another round of dozens  of orders for repairs at the properties, documents from the city.

If a receiver is appointed, the new manager can only collect rents from the date of the appointment forward. From there, the receiver would prioritize the list of fixes needed with the funds available from rents.

The two-day hearing is slated to begin at 10 a.m. Wednesday in Judge Beth Myers courtroom in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.