West Oak Lane tenants protest building management over maintenance issues

Residents say SBG Management Services has ignored their requests to fix up Oak Lane Court Apartments. The company says they’re lying.

The Oak Lane Court apartment building

The Oak Lane Court apartments on Chelten Ave. in the West Oak Lane section of Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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Kathy Lawson didn’t know she had no heat in her one-bedroom unit until September, the first time she tried to use it after moving to Oak Lane Court Apartments in July.

She didn’t realize other tenants had the same problem until several of her new neighbors brought it up in conversation.

“I thought I was the only one,” said Lawson. “None of us had no heat.”

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Lawson is now part of the Oak Lane Tenant Association, which formed after residents say management repeatedly ignored their requests to restore heat to their units, fix the four-story building’s elevator, and make good on other outstanding maintenance requests, including complaints about pest infestations.

The group, created through a collaboration with Philly DSA, says conditions inside the 62-unit property are deplorable and unsafe over the last year, allegations management categorically denies. Tenants are holding a protest on Thursday afternoon with hopes of finally getting the building fixed up.

Lawson will be there. All winter, she’s had to rely on a single space heater and, at times, her stove to keep her place tolerable for her and Pearl, the Maltese she recently rescued. She said maintenance told her a new part was needed, but that the part has yet to arrive.

Meanwhile, she said she has had to pick and choose when to have the heat on so her utility bills don’t climb too high.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Lawson, who lives on a fixed income.

The Oak Lane Court apartment building
The Oak Lane Court apartments on Chelten Ave. in the West Oak Lane section of Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The building is run by SBG Management Services, a Philadelphia-area company with at least 15 residential properties tied to its name. The outfit is currently being sued by the city and the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office. Both entities filed after Lindley Towers, a seven-story building near Oak Lane Court Apartments, partially collapsed in 2022. And they place the blame squarely on SBG, saying the company’s negligence led to the displacement of roughly 100 residents.

Some of those residents now live at Oak Lane Court Apartments.

David Liebergot, a director of maintenance for SBG, said the Oak Lane Tenant Association is not being truthful about conditions inside the building, saying it’s in “good shape.”

“It’s all lies,” said Liebergot in an interview. “We have nothing to hide.”

He said the building has “plenty of heat” and blamed residents for breaking the building’s elevator four months ago, a repair he said requires a new part to be manufactured. The company that makes the part gave him a 16-week timeline, he said.

“They don’t want to pay to rent,” Liebergot said. “It’s all a game.”

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Some tenants started escrowing rent with hopes of forcing SBG’s hand.

Liebergot contends that a longer list of residents simply owe back rent, some dating back to January 2023.

A delinquency report SBG sent to WHYY News shows that, as of January of this year, about 40 tenants collectively owe nearly $125,000 in rent.

A representative from City Councilmember Cindy Bass’ office visited the building in response to resident outcry, but has yet to take any action beyond that.

“We’ve been out. We’re going to continue to monitor the situation and take action where necessary,” said Bass.

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