Developer asked to fix apartments before renovating them

A private developer says he does not expect a fair housing complaint filed against his company to delay the multi-million dollar renovation of a West Mt. Airy apartment complex. 

Andrew Eisenstein, managing director of Iron Stone Strategic Capital Partners, recently purchased the four-building site at 126-138 W. Allens Lane near Henry Houston Elementary School. He intends to completely overhaul the run-down, rental property, spending around $2 million along the way.

“The previous owner really did not take care of the building at all. It’s in really, really bad shape,” said Eisenstein.

Construction, which will displace current tenants, is scheduled to start in earnest by the end of the year and be completed in 18 months.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Crews will tackle one building at a time. When finished, a total of 54 one and two-bedroom apartments will be available for market value prices.

Eisenstein estimates that a one-bedroom unit could run between $750 and $800 per month; a two-bedroom between $1,000 and $1,000.

According to tenants, a one-bedroom now costs $650; a two-bedroom, $750.

L&I violations

In the meantime, though, the apartment buildings remain in a sorry state.

In response, a group of frustrated residents have banded together in an effort to resolve an extensive list of code violations that, they say, make most units unlivable.

More than 100 outstanding violations, most dating back to early August, are connected to the complex, according to online records maintained by the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections.

Filed under nearly 20 different case numbers, they cover a wide-range of repair categories, including roof, ceiling, plumbing and electrical. All violations have been categorized as “non-hazardous,” according to online documents.

“All they do is patchwork. They don’t fix the root of the problem,” said Kenneth Moore, who has lived at the complex for four years.

Hole in the floor

During a recent tour of his apartment, Moore pointed out a series of problems, including a section of raised creases in his ceiling where rainwater reportedly seeps through and a section of his bathroom floor that, he said, he crashed through in December while running bathwater for his son.

“I fell through and went down to the next apartment,” he said.

With the help of the Tenant Union Representative Network (TURN), 16 renters, including Moore, have collectively filed a fair housing complaint with the city’s Fair Housing Commission.

The Aug. 3 complaint, obtained by NewsWorks, alleges “unfair rental practices, as well as retaliation, for exercising their rights under the Fair Housing Ordinance.”

The document is directed against Gregory Stewart, Residential Life, LLC and Allen’s Lane Lender, LLC.

Stewart heads up Residential Life, a property management company connected to Iron Stone. Allen’s Lane has a similar tie.

Under the Fair Housing Ordinance, tenants cannot be evicted until all L&I violations have been addressed as long as rent is up-to-date, and a resident has not “committed a nuisance” or caused the violation.

“Whoever owns it, that owner is responsible for the repairs,” said TURN Executive Director Phil Lord, who is representing some of the West Allen’s Lane apartment residents.

Worst problems fixed

Asked about the complaint, Eisenstein said, “There is nothing legitimate about a fair housing complaint about what we’re doing, but we’ll go through the process and work through it.”

He noted that the rehabilitation process was already underway. All code violations have been cured, he said. A series of “hazardous” violations were rectified by mid-July, according to L&I records.

“We have a lot of things in the works,” said Eisenstein.

Tenants are nonetheless withholding rental payments as part of the complaint process. The money is being stashed away in separate, personal accounts for the time being.

City hearing scheduled

The matter is scheduled to go before the Fair Housing Commission on Oct. 3. Commission officials said, typically, the agency’s four commissioners will order landlords to make repairs and tenants to withhold rent until everything is done.

The case is then given a new date, which serves as an unofficial deadline for the landlord to complete the work. If it is not, another date is handed out.

“The goal is to close out L&I violations and make the parties as whole as possible,” said Rue Landau, executive director of the commission.

Landau said she couldn’t comment on specific cases.

When asked if the impending renovation might play a role in the outcome of the complaint, Lord with TURN said “future actions don’t mean anything.”

“We can’t deal with people’s promises to cure them,” he continued.

Moore and two other tenants that spoke with NewsWorks all said they’d like to stay at the complex if possible. Its location in a relatively quiet part of the city and its proximity to public transportation were among the benefits they listed.

While there is some concern that certain residents would be priced out of a renovated unit, Moore and others said they would not have a problem paying more if the property improved.

If the new rent is too high, however, Belinda Spry said some tenants wouldn’t be opposed to a buyout of some kind to help facilitate a move to a new location.

To date, Eisenstein has not met with residents. “We’re working with the tenants so we can start construction and they can move on to their next place,” he said.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal