Tenants fear retaliation for speaking out against Lake Arbor Apartments

- Tenants of a west Charlotte apartment complex say they're afraid to report serious issues with their units to City of Charlotte code enforcement out of fear of retaliation from property management.

Lashanna Rogers said she was evicted from her apartment after reporting violations to code enforcement about issues with Lake Arbor Apartments.

"All of a sudden code enforcement come and you email me, oh I won't be accepting your rent," Rogers said.

FOX 46 obtained an email exchange between Rogers and property manager, Lori Walker. In an email, Rogers apologized for calling code enforcement, but Walker responded by saying, "I will not be accepting your rent."

Tonya Burris, who also lives at Lake Arbor, said there this a fear throughout the neighborhood that people will be evicted if they speak up. 

"It's not fair to any of these people that are doing what they're supposed to do," she told FOX 46.

Burris called code enforcement about her air conditioning unit and says afterwards, eviction was filed for "nonpayment of July rent."

However, Burris has records of money orders and checks she gave to Lake Arbor for July rent that, for whatever reason, the complex did not cash. She's thankful a judge sided in her favor. 

Some of that money came from Crisis Assistance Ministry in Charlotte.

Charlotte's Director of Housing and Neighborhood Services, Pamela Wideman, said there are plenty of issues that need to be addressed. 

"We need residents to help us and so that's why we're going to go out to the residents," Wideman said. "Make them aware of their rights and make them aware of other resources that they can use to help this situation."

Charlotte's Community Relations Committee will be meeting with Lake Arbor residents on Saturday, Aug. 25. FOX 46 Charlotte has been asked by residents to help represent them and will be in attendance.

Lake Arbor has dozens of code enforcement violations. One tenant says their dishwasher has worms in it after feces came through the pipes. Another tenant is forced to tie a bag around his sink to catch water because it continuously leaks.

With all the issues, why aren't more people coming forward and calling 311 to report to code enforcement?

Fear of retaliation.

"We're too scared to call code enforcement," one woman said.

An inspection of each individual unit can be done by city officials and could protect tenants who are too scared to call, but that's something the city is not willing to do because of resources.

"If we did that, it would require an enormous amount of manpower hour," Wideman said.

However, Charlotte city councilwoman LaWana Mayfield said she is on board -- if it's what the people want.

"If the residents say, 'this is what I want,' then I will support that 110 percent," she told FOX 46.

City staff briefed council in early August about what's happening at Lake Arbor, citing several FOX 46 news reports -- but the city has been investigating since 2017 and Mayfield said it's disturbing that council never had official notice beforehand.

"I'm going to take full responsibility here as the council member for the area," Mayfield said. "Because I didn't know all of this was going on until it made its way into the media. Our staff has been working on this for more than a year. We may have received it in a memo -- this is not something you put in a memo. This is something where you pick up the phone and give a presentation.

"I'm looking at our code enforcement team and management to find out, 'why did y'all not tell us that this was going on so that we could start working with the attorney to find out, legally, what can we do?' We shouldn't be having this conversation a year later."

FOX 46 asked Mayfield, if someone dropped the ball.

"The ball was dropped," Mayfield said. "Definitely. I don't think the ball was dropped intentionally but there was definitely miscommunication and mishandling of this whole situation."

Mayfield said that if it were up to her, Lake Arbor would be condemned, but North Carolina law doesn't give local governments that power.

"Local government should have the ability to address a slumlord."

FOX 46 asked Lake Arbor management for their side of the story. They chose not to speak and slammed the door in our face.

Lake Arbor is privately owned. There have been at least 111 code enforcement cases since 2017. 55 of those cases are closed and in compliance. 56 cases are open and 11 of those are going through environmental court -- where property management will face misdemeanor criminal charges for the violations.

Lake Arbor is owned by a Robert Wolf, according to North Carolina records, who runs Read Property Group and Belmar Construction in Brooklyn, N.Y. 

The property is managed by the Broad Management Group, also based in New York.

Each have declined comment and hung up the phone on FOX 46 when pressed for questions.

"Those slumlords, because we need to call them for what they are," Mayfield said.

FOX 46 learned that Lake Arbor (Lake Arbor Dean TIC LLC) had been operating with a revoked businesses license from 2016-18. That license was revoked by the North Carolina Secretary of State's Office.

Wolf has since filed to regain that license, after it was uncovered during our investigation.

FOX 46 asked city officials if they would consider taking over Lake Arbor.

"It's really important to keep those units existing and to rehabilitate them in a way that they serve for high quality affordable housing," Wideman said.

Wideman said Lake Arbor represents the need for Charlotte voters to pass a $50 million bond on the November ballot, that would tie-in with $50 million from the private sector -- geared towards affordable housing.

"An affordable developer could use housing trust fund as gap-financing to help acquire properties like these to rehabilitate them in exchange for long-term deed restrictions and good property management to keep these units in Charlotte.

"That's not to say the city would buy the property. The city generally isn't in the business of buying properties...We're in the business of helping these types of properties become high-quality affordable housing."

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