published Saturday, July 16th, 2011

Chattanooga apartment dwellers say attempts to get help with safety problems have been futile

by Chris Carroll
Illah Salvador, 5, stands inside of her family's bathroom which has gaping holes in the tile of the bath and grime on the floor, which the owners of The View complex have not repaired.  Residents of the complex said that the owners have been unwilling to perform proper maintenance on the complex, resulting in problems including bugs, leaks, molding and rats.
Illah Salvador, 5, stands inside of her family's bathroom which has gaping holes in the tile of the bath and grime on the floor, which the owners of The View complex have not repaired. Residents of the complex said that the owners have been unwilling to perform proper maintenance on the complex, resulting in problems including bugs, leaks, molding and rats.
Photo by Jenna Walker.
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Katrina Johnson has just completed her day’s first shift as a certified nursing assistant for a 99-year-old woman. She has another shift to go.

Hands on hips, she stands on the patio of her ground-floor apartment overlooking the Ridge cut on Interstate 24, downtown Chattanooga and, even farther than that, the mountains surrounding the city.

She lives at a place called The View.

“And that’s all there is,” she says.

Her tone is irritable because of what she’s been through and what’s on her body. Critters, mold, rats and holes in the wall await her inside, but the bites on her arms prove she doesn’t need actually to see any of it again.

She has the records to prove it.

“A bedbug infestation was found in the living room, bedroom, etc.,” a June 22 Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department inspection report states. “Many living bedbugs were found during the inspection crawling on the beds, walls, ceilings, etc.”

Bureaucratic run-arounds, long work days and ugly living conditions have dominated the last few months — it’s as if she doesn’t have time to smile.

Residents at The View — an efficiency complex with some one-bedroom apartments priced at $350 a month — recounted stories of the complex’s former owner, John Oliver, posing as the maintenance man and never revealing that he was the man pocketing their rent money.

“You laugh to keep from crying,” said a female resident who goes by the name Chocolate.

They also said he was an incompetent fixer, papering over brownish mold, ignoring thick seepage under the carpets and rat-sized holes in the ceiling, and failing to mend leaky faucets.

“He presented himself as the maintenance man — ‘Mr. John,’” said resident Samantha Millraney, 22. “That’s all we knew. He’s preying on disadvantaged people.”

In a phone interview Friday, Oliver confirmed that he never identified himself as the owner when he fixed maintenance problems at the complex, saying “it didn’t make any difference who I was.”

“Anytime they asked me questions, I referred them to the property manager,” he said, confirming that the property manager was his employee.

Records show Oliver and his wife, Joyce, own a $250,000 house in Ooltewah and a Chattanooga-based business called Star Properties, which sold The View to a New York-based investor group for $859,620 on June 22.

“At the time that property was sold, there were no such problems existing,” Oliver said.

Records show the sale happened the same day the health department inspector wrote that he saw bedbugs crawling all over Johnson’s apartment.

Chattanooga Property Management LLC now operates The View for the new owners.

“Changes are already being made,” said Melanie Butler, a property manager with the company. “For instance, the lighting problems in the parking lot — everything was dark when we got there. Fixed.”

When Johnson first went to the health department, the agency agreed to inspect the apartment but did little else.

“The health department has no legal authority to enforce corrective action on owners of residential property,” said spokeswoman Abena Williams.

Health department officials gave Johnson “educational materials” before referring her to city officials, Williams said.

The 37-page bedbug infestation report given to Johnson states it’s “designed for health professionals, housing professionals and pest management professionals” seeking to rectify “multifamily housing.”

Johnson said she visited Chattanooga’s Neighborhood Services and Community Development division, whose mission partly entails “engaging in active code enforcement to create viable living environments that enhance the quality of life for all residents,” according to the city’s website.

“They told me it wasn’t their problem and sprayed their desks down with Lysol when I left,” Johnson said.

Beverly Johnson, administrator for Neighborhood Services, denied that account, saying the division “does not regulate bedbugs” and that “bedbugs are a health department issue.”

“I don’t know anything about a Lysol incident taking place,” Beverly Johnson said. “It did not take place in my presence. That’s what I’m saying.”

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SavartiTN said...

Hmmm, I see on the Hamilton County Property Assessor's office website that Mr. Oliver owns over 40 properties in Hamilton County...most of them protected. He appears to be taking advantage of the Tennessee Investment Services Trust that went into effect in July 2007.

This law allows people like Oliver and other slum landlords in the area to transfer their assets to a trust in order to keep their property safe from creditors. Yep, you read that right. Try to sue one of these guys for ripping you or the bank off or building you a substandard home and they are protected by state law.

Good ol' Tennessee legislators! Always looking out for the rich guys and the crooks!

July 16, 2011 at 12:27 a.m.
RTZ said...

I loved reading how every agency said it was out of their hands. I have to wonder if those who ignored the issue saw a picture of the room with the little girl standing in it....would they even care?? You should all be ashamed of yourselves for not atleast giving correct guidance to somebody in this kind of dilemma. If you aren't educated enough on how to help someone in this type of situation...perhaps you all belong in a different line of work.

July 16, 2011 at 12:49 a.m.
Selah said...

Is this another version of the projects...what injustices that continue to hapn to the poor. Start voting 2012 or it will ocntinue to get worse for the poor and middle clsas. The slum landlord has money to pocket for himself but could care less about the people who is filling his own pocketbook. He found a loophole and walked right through it but evidently the working poor couldn't find one loophole to get life threatening issues addressed. VOTE 2012

July 16, 2011 at 12:59 a.m.
mbutler1112 said...

I can only hope that everyone watches as we turn this building into a respectable, WELL-MAINTAINED place to live. For far too long it has been exactly as described in the article. That changes now.

We have already turned the corner on many of the things listed in the article (in addition to the lighting), and there are many more repairs and upgrades in store.

We knew when we accepted the management of the property that we had an uphill battle ahead of us, and we know that we can take on the challenge and beat it.

It's a shame that that Ms Johnson left before we took over the management, as we have addressed this situation head-on and are busy putting it in the past. I'm certain we could have solved her issues and she would have been happy with the results.

Visit our website.....we are proud of the properties we manage, and we fully intend for The View (new name coming) to be our latest success story.

Melanie Butler - Chattanooga Property Management

July 16, 2011 at 2 a.m.
pack839 said...

trina still has the lease and the keys, she just ain't paying it no more. Doesn't deserve to

July 16, 2011 at 2:14 a.m.
WEBMAN said...

Neighborhood services is only interested in citing you to court if your grass is over 4 inches high. The inspectors that work for this department are the biggest idiots on the city payroll, next to the mayor. They wouldn't know an actual violation, as the picture above shows, if they saw one,#BLINDIDIOTS

July 16, 2011 at 8:54 a.m.

Well Ms. Butler, quite frankly I feel you are filled with condensed fecal matter.

July 16, 2011 at 11:52 a.m.
eastridge8 said...

Gee, higherlevelthinker....say what you mean...speak your mind...LOL!

I hope Ms Butler is speaking the truth when she says her company is making BIG changes...they should START with little Illah's apt. FOR CERTAIN!!!

July 16, 2011 at 6:14 p.m.
SavartiTN said...

I went to your website, Ms. Butler. I really didn't see anything that indicated a change in the situation at the View.

July 21, 2011 at 6:21 p.m.
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