Absentee landlord saps city resources
By Elise Kaplan
A binder stuffed with six inches of paper sits on a bookshelf in the office of the Safe City Strike Force in City Hall. The binder is one of many holding complaints that tenants have filed against their landlords. This one covers just June to August 2011.
Joe Martinez, director of the Safe City Strike Force, says one development company stands out among the numerous inspection calls the department gets every month.
“ ... there was no more funding for locks. All of the doors were left wide open, including exterior doors.”
Joe Martinez, Safe City Strike Force director
PacifiCap Properties, based out of Portland, Ore., owns seven apartment complexes throughout Albuquerque. Tenants from Arioso at Northeast Heights, Sandpiper Apartments and Aztec Village Apartments, all east of Carlisle on Montgomery, are frequent callers, Martinez says.
After a fire destroyed one of the buildings in October, Arioso management evacuated residents to vacant apartments, Martinez says. In the course of removing debris, he says, asbestos was discovered, and tenants had to leave their belongings behind as they waited for testing to be completed.
Martinez says when he visited the property with Mike Royce, an inspector from the Fire Marshal’s Office, they found the blaze had destroyed two upper and two lower units, as well as a lot of the electrical wiring. The apartments were unlivable due to the smoke damage, according to Martinez.
He says he revisited the property when people complained to the Safe City Strike Force about the security of their possessions in the fire-damaged building. “Once they got all the doors reinstalled there was no more funding for locks. All of the doors were left wide open, including exterior doors.”
On Jan 13, due to a lack of reconstruction permits, poor security and absentee management, the Arioso building was shut down, Martinez says.
In the second week of January alone, he says he visited the three worst complexes—Arioso, Sandpiper and Aztec Village—seven times. “A lot of their properties do comply with codes and calls for service, but we have a few of their properties that are consistently below the line of compliance,” he says. Even with PacifiCap-owned complexes that are managed by other companies, “we still have a tough time trying to keep them operating properly.”
“About December we noticed a large dark spot growing on our bedroom wall, which was adjacent to the bathroom.”
Rachael White, former tenant
PacifiCap purchased apartments in Albuquerque around 2005 through a federal tax credit program, says Linda Bridge, the director of housing development for the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority. The program allocates $40 million in tax-exempt bonds to New Mexico each year. This amount is determined by a state’s population. The money is given to developers to rehabilitate or develop low-income housing.
Joe Martinez, director of Safe City Strike Force
In exchange for the tax credits, developers agree to maintain affordable rent for 30 years for those earning less than the state's median income. Tenants submit their pay stubs with their application, and their rent cannot exceed limits determined by household size and income.
The Mortgage Finance Authority administers the tax credits to selected developers and then monitors for rental rate compliance throughout the 30-year contract. When living conditions at Arioso, Sandpiper and Aztec Village were repeatedly reported as substandard, the authority asked them to bring in third-party management. After a year, there’s still a lot of work to do to improve the complexes, according to Bridge and Martinez.
“I asked, 'Why is that wall gone?' and they said they needed it for other apartments.”
Armando Alamos, former maintenance supervisor
A Question of Mold
Rachael White has her own story to tell—and photos to illustrate it—about her stay at Arioso. Pregnant, White moved into a two-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot apartment with her husband in September 2008. They signed a six-month lease, and for a while, everything was fine.
“About December we noticed a large dark spot growing on our bedroom wall, which was adjacent to the bathroom,” she says. “We moved our dresser and the wood was being eaten away by this white stuff. I automatically assumed it was mold.”
She made numerous calls, she says, and several months passed before management responded. By this time, she says mold had destroyed the back of the dresser. In pictures she took to document the damage, black and white smudges creep across walls, carpeted floors and shower doors. She also snapped shots of a large hole in the ceiling that she says was not fixed throughout the duration of her stay at Arioso.
When a maintenance worker finally arrived, he caulked over the mold, she says, but did not remove the contaminated carpet. Her daughter was born two months after they moved in. “She was really small, and I have asthma. I was really concerned about the mold that could be circulating in the air.”
The family moved out of their Arioso apartment in May 2009. White says she'll never rent from a PacifiCap-owned property again.
Armando Alamos, a former maintenance supervisor, says there wasn’t enough money to cover repair costs. Workers resorted to borrowing faucets and hardware from empty apartments for repairs, he says. “At Sandpiper, I went in one apartment, and there was a big piece of the wall missing,” he says. “I asked, 'Why is that wall gone?' and they said they needed it for other apartments.”
Jaiden Williams says she sunk a lot of money into the aging home she rented with her wife and three kids at Sandpiper apartments. “I replaced the garbage disposal myself. I replaced the dishwasher and just about all of the electrical outlets,” she says.
Williams says the complex also had numerous problems with drugs, theft and violence. “Security was always an issue,” she says. “There’d be six months where we’d go without a security guard monitoring the place, and of course that was when the violence and junk got even worse.”
Safe City Strike Force Director Martinez says Arioso, Sandpiper and Aztec Village tie up a lot of the beat officers’ time. They patrol the complexes, he says, and deal with issues such as loud parties or disputes between neighbors. From July to December, the Albuquerque Police Department responded to 141 nuisance calls at Arioso, 112 at Aztec Village and 139 at Sandpiper, according to the Northeast Area Command.
In contrast, Woodberry Heights Apartments, Sunchase Apartments and La Entrada Apartments respectively placed 11, 16 and 44 calls during that period. These properties are in the same region along Montgomery.
“It’s not the job of the city to go there for the neighbor-neighbor complaints,” Martinez says. “Our job is to provide a safe environment, but we can’t be there 24/7 as their private security company.”
Change and Time
Although no one from PacifiCap would comment for this story, Martinez says a manager with Arioso Apartments cited only 60 percent occupancy in August, meaning there may not be enough revenue coming in from rent to cover everyday operations. Still, Martinez emphasizes that he doesn't understand why specific properties continue to falter, despite numerous visits from the Safe City Strike Force and the intervention of third-party management.
At the beginning of 2012, PacifiCap booted Monarch Properties as its third-party management company and instated Riverstone Residential, says Bridge of the Mortgage Finance Authority. “It’s one of those things where it's going to take time,” she says. “We’ll continue to monitor closely, work closely with PacifiCap, closely with management, and closely with our community partners to help things get better.” No one from Riverstone or Monarch returned phone calls for comment.
Jacqueline Boudreaux, manager at the Mortgage Finance Authority, says the agency does long-term monitoring to make sure complexes comply with IRS tax codes. “We make annual visits to all the properties,” she says. “We're looking at administrative processes, and we also inspect 20 percent of the property units and exteriors.”
Bridge says a lack of adequate funding is usually a problem for low-income housing, since it is subject to the same market conditions as everything else—high vacancies, increasing property taxes and utility costs—but cannot raise rents. “They’re usually limited in cash flow, but at the same time, they’re all structured to make sure there’s sufficient tax flow to cover operations and put away money for reserves,” she says. Unfortunately, she adds, there are no resources to provide financial assistance for everyday operations.
If you’re in a poorly maintained rental property, the city of Albuquerque recommends you call 311 and ask for Housing Code Enforcement.
They city also has a handy FAQ on regulations.
For legal advice, call the Landlord-Tenant hotline at 998-4529.
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