Judge delays possible eviction of Perry apartment residents

bpurser@macon.comMarch 3, 2014 

  • Residents of Crossroad Apartments in Perry talk about their city mandated eviction that a judge has delayed pending a Friday hearing.

PERRY -- An 11th-hour court order Monday delayed the expected closure of Crossroads Apartments and the eviction of its tenants.

The city was expected to shut down the apartments in the 300-block of General Courtney Hodges Boulevard because of fire and building code violations at 6 p.m. Monday. Several of the residents, many of whom had said they had no place to go, rejoiced in the parking lot at the news.

The order, signed at 5:30 p.m. by Judge Edward D. Lukemire, halts the closure pending a hearing in Houston County Superior Court. The hearing is set for 9:30 a.m. Friday.

“I’m just so happy that these people have somewhere to stay at least ... until we can find out further what we can do,” said Mark Green, who owns the apartment complex with his wife, Miriam.

The Greens purchased the apartments four months ago and have been working steadily to improve them. The apartments are within an older motel that had been converted for apartment living.

Mark Green said he wants to work with the city to do what needs to be done to bring the complex up to code.

Clarence Williams III, a Warner Robins attorney representing Green, said he’s hopeful Green and Perry officials can hammer out a solution that will allow tenants to keep their homes while repairs are made.

Williams presented city officials with the order when they arrived at the complex shortly before 6 p.m. Chief Building Inspector Steve Howard said he would be willing to sit down with Green and his attorney and talk about the issue.

Howard told Green the complex previously operated as a motel and that there’s a different set of regulations that apply to apartments. Green said he purchased it from the previous owner as apartments.

Residents of the Crossroads Apartments in Perry received a stay of of their eviction late Monday afternoon.

Earlier Monday, Fire Chief Joel Gray said a “plethora of violations” were discovered last week after the city received a complaint about the apartments.

Among violations that placed residents at “life-safety” risk included problematic electrical wiring and the lack of smoke detectors in many of the 20 units, Gray said. Three of the apartments were vacant.

Firefighters won’t know the extent of the safety violations until after residents are vacated and an extensive review of the units is done, Gray said.

After the short meeting with Perry officials in the parking lot, Williams said he expects tenants would be willing to sign an affidavit to allow firefighters to inspect their apartments without the need for evacuation. He said he’s hopeful that enough of the apartments would remain open to provide housing for the tenants until repairs can be made.

Residents initially were given until Friday to vacate the premises but appealed to Mayor Jimmy Faircloth and received Monday’s extension.

Most of those living in the apartments are on limited and fixed incomes. Rex Parish, a U.S. Army veteran, was among them. He expressed relief. He’d said earlier he had no idea where he would live if the apartments shut down.

“We have nowhere to go,” echoed 50-year-old Alfred Wigfall, who’s lived at the complex for nearly two months with his girlfriend, Pam Johnson, 52.

Wigfall, who’s disabled, said the couple relies on Johnson’s income as a restaurant cook. They pay weekly to live at the apartments.

City ordinances give the fire chief the authority to close down an apartment complex if it’s not up to code and its tenants’ safety is at risk, City Attorney David Walker said.

Ron Rowland, who is listed as the agent for Houston Crossroads Investments in online Houston County property tax records, said about 16 low-income families would have been displaced by the city’s action.

Rowland said he sold the property for $220,000 to Mark Green in October. Rowland said both he and Green offered to fix anything that might be wrong with the apartments Friday when they received only an hour’s notice of the planned eviction action.

Rowland said he did not know the scope of the alleged violations except that the violations involved electrical wiring. He said he’d had an electrician go through the complex and that only “minor problems” were found and nothing “so severe” to force an eviction.

Rowland said he did not know about the absence of smoke detectors and that tenants could have taken them down. Green said he had already begun to add smoke detectors in apartments that did not have any.

Rowland said the tenants were not required to pay deposits. Some had lived there 10 years, he said.

Green said residents may pay monthly or by the week.

Tenants were defensive of Green, noting that he had made more improvements to the complex in recent months than had been made in years.

Edna Rich, who’s lived at the complex on and off for about six years, said she’d been late on her rent before. She said Green didn’t kick her out but instead gave her time to catch up.

“You cannot find a better manager than Mr. Green,” Rich said. “If you don’t have all your rent money for some reason, he’ll work with you. The other motels will put you out.”

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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