Residents evicted in late-night condemnation

YES! Weekly | August 22, 2012
The lights had been out for eight hours when residents at a towering apartment complex all received some unexpected visitors: It was the police and fire departments, there to inform residents they needed to grab what they could and leave immediately.

The city condemned the building at 11 p.m. on Aug. 15 after Duke Energy cut the power off at Cascades Grandview just west of downtown Greensboro on Market Street that afternoon. Residents said they were shocked to find the police at their doors telling them to leave and directing them to an emergency shelter if they needed a place to stay for the night. The power was turned on around noon the next day, but residents didn’t know what would happen until mere minutes before the lights started flickering on inside.

The building is owned by Cascades Grandview LLC, which in turned is owned by Gentco Real Estate in Henrico, Va. Nobody from Cascades or Henrico could be reached for comment, and according to county tax records, the company owes more than $100,000 in county taxes, $24,500 of which is delinquent from 2011.

Dozens of residents sat along the outside of the complex the next day, swapping horror stories of dealing with management, complaining about the consistently broken air-conditioning and wondering when they’d be able to get inside to retrieve their possessions.

“I done paid my hard-earned money; it’s not right,” 21-year-old Michael Chaney said. “I had to stay in a shelter last night.”

Chaney and other residents waiting to get inside, like Dahryl Jenkins, said they saw management leave with their things shortly after the power was out but that nobody from management had warned anyone or contacted them since the city ordered everyone to leave. One man said he slept in his car.

William Craft slept on his friend’s couch for the night, and said he had been able to go into his apartment with a police escort in the morning, as other residents were cued up in a line waiting to get inside. Even though he was just supposed to grab some of his things, Craft said he took a much-needed shower.

Other residents, like Lynne Burke and Chad Morehouse, went to a nearby motel when the power was out but had no idea the building would be condemned. Like Craft and other residents, they said they were planning to move out as soon as possible.

“I just started crying; it’s scary,” Burke said, describing her reaction to finding out Cascades was condemned. “I’d rather be very, very broke and be somewhere with electricity and air conditioning.”

Burke, Morehouse and others said management didn’t return their calls about when they would be able to get back inside and had a history of not responding to questions and requests.

Representatives from service organizations, the newly formed Tenants’ Association of Greensboro, competing apartment complexes and a few members of Occupy Greensboro came out to speak with residents. At the residents’ request, Officer GM Davis addressed a crowd around 11:40 a.m., saying there was a reconnect order.

“Hang in there and we’re going to get you back inside,” he said. As if on command, the lights flicked on in a nearby room inside almost as soon as Davis finished.

Once the lights were on, the fire marshal cleared the building for occupancy and residents were allowed back inside. The victory seemed short-lived, as the city announced Aug. 16 that it was giv ing Cascades Grandview owners until Monday to fix the elevator, which had stopped working when the power was shut off, and said the building could possibly be condemned again if owners failed to comply.

City spokesperson Donnie Turlington said Monday that the elevator had been fixed the night before and inspectors cleared the building in the morning but added that the problems don’t end there.

“They are zoned as a student-housing dormitory and we are realizing that that is not entirely who lives over there,” he said.

Chaney, Craft and Burke said they aren’t students, as did other residents waiting outside the building Aug. 16. Turlington said the property owner didn’t respond to an Aug. 3 letter from the city addressing the zoning violation by the deadline of Aug. 18. The city could begin fining the owner’s for noncompliance, beginning at $50 and then increasing incrementally. City zoning administrator Mike Kirkman said the city was going to hold off.

“The property has gone into receivership,” Kirkman said he was informed Monday. “We’re waiting to find out who those folks are.”

Kirkman said the process would likely take a week or two and expected it would be able to be resolved without fines.

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