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Low-income apartments deemed public nuisance

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Posted at 11:02 AM, Dec 17, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-17 16:39:21-05

CINCINNATI - Five low-income apartment communities  in Avondale, English Woods and Walnut Hills with a long list of troubling living conditions have been deemed a public nuisance by a Hamilton County Common Pleas Court judge.

The decision Wednesday by Judge Beth Myers is the result of a months-long legal battle launched by the city of Cincinnati in February against the buildings owners New Jersey-based PF Holdings, LLC. In the last year the city  has issued more than 1,800 work orders for building and health code violations at the properties which are home to more than 800 low-income city residents.

Problems range from faulty electrical wiring to damaged locks, peeling paint and plaster, leaking roofs, and lack of  maintenance, according to city and court documents.

“This is the first step towards a  resolution,” said Virginia Tallent, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, which joined the city as a party in the case. “There is a lot of work to be done. This is a great decision today and really advances justice for these residents, but it’s far from over."

Properties deemed nuisances Wednesday 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, and Reids Valley apartments at 1990  Northern Boulevard in English Woods.

“Generally, with the evidence that’s been presented.. all of them are not in good repair,” Myers said.

The lawsuit  also calls for a receiver to be put in place to manage the properties and ensure the problems are fixed.

Under a contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) PF Holdings receives more than  $5 million annually from the federal government to cover a large portion of resident rents for each the properties. Any receiver named for the properties would have have the job of managing the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid out by HUD each month for the properties and using the funds to tackle the code violations.

Myers is expected to make a final decision on that matter in January. Meanwhile, the lingering list of building violations and maintenance issues have led PF Holdings lender on the properties U.S. Bank Wilmington Trust to file for a foreclosure on the properties.

Officials with HUD said Wednesday they hope to work with the lender to ensure the properties remain dedicated as affordable rental housing should the foreclosure take place and the properties sold.

"The city here has been exemplary in advancing action on behalf the residents,  the properties and the community," said Dan Burke, a spokesman for HUD. "That's not always, universally the case."

WCPO has spent months 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 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.
 
On Wednesday, he said he disagreed with Myers decision. Naming a receiver to manage the properties "would be a waste resources and misdirection of attention from what needs to be addressed, which is letting us do our job."