by Ivan Foley
A group of tenants upset at what they say is a lack of attention to important maintenance issues by the landlord at the apartment complex in which they live brought their situation to the attention of the public and city officials at a Platte City Board of Aldermen meeting last week.
Many residents of Woodland Trace Apartments, located along Bello Mondo Drive, attended the meeting to describe conditions at the complex and to ask if the city could be of any help in the matter.
Renee Dietz served as the primary spokesperson for the group. Dietz said much of the property is in need of repair.
“There are health and safety issues,” Dietz said.
Some of the issues, she said, include apartments with windows screwed shut, exposed hot wires on air conditioning units, foundation cracks, some apartments with black mold in them, apartments with water damage, animal feces in some commons areas on the property, overloaded circuit breakers, rebar sticking up in some areas, multiple electrical problems, seeping sewage in some apartments, and some buildings are shifting on the foundations.
“People are getting sick,” she claimed, from mold in some apartments.
Dietz said the owner of the apartment complex has been notified of problems repeatedly by residents.
“This is years of neglect. No one should have to be living in these conditions,” she said.
Dietz said she has lived at Woodland Trace for 20 months. Later, she told The Landmark she is moving out this week.
“My apartment has been broken into five times while I’ve lived there,” she said.
She said residents of Woodland Trace live there “by circumstance, not by choice.”
She claimed children who live in the complex are teased at school for being residents at what she said some people refer to as “Ghetto Mondo.”
That nickname is apparently derived from the original name of the complex, Bello Mondo Apartments, located on Bello Mondo Drive. The complex has been known as Woodland Trace for many years now.
Following comments by Dietz, Robin Smith, who identified herself as the new property manager for Woodland Trace Apartments, addressed the aldermen. At the time of the meeting, Smith said she had been in her position for only eight days.
“I am (with) a management company. All the complaints you’re hearing tonight are legitimate,” Smith said, before adding that property owners and the management company are in the process of making improvements.
“We’ve done more in the past eight days than has been done in a year. Tens of thousands of dollars have been spent in the past eight days,” she said.
Smith said foundation repairs were a top priority in those first few days.
“New roofs went on yesterday,” she said. “Guttering tomorrow.”
She added that “every apartment will have new locks installed.”
Areas of concrete steps that are of concern are also being addressed. Repairs to the parking lot areas are on the horizon, Smith said.
She said a certified water and mold company has been called in to inspect and address problem areas.
“It looks to me like maintenance has not been done there in years,” the property manager said.
Smith remarked that “electrical and water issues are the No. 1 and No. 2 priorities for us.”
The complex advertises one, two and three bedroom units. Smith said rent amounts can range from $600 to $700 per month.
She asked the tenants “to work with us” and asked the tenants to respect efforts to “clean up” the property.
“I promise that I am working 14 hours a day,” Smith added.
Contacted by The Landmark several days after the meeting, Dietz talked about some of the work being done by the new property management company.
“They are spending all of this time on roofs and gutters and mowing--they’ve mowed four times in 10 days--but they haven’t touched the apartments with mold and water damage,” Dietz said.
“They are not doing the most important thing, which is taking care of their tenants.”
Dietz said the previous property manager is not to blame.
“The previous property manager was only here four months. I get defensive of her. She was the first one to get the crime rate to go down and pointed out hot wires on air conditioning units,” Dietz said.
“This is 10 years or more of neglect,” she stated.
Smith, the property manager, did not return multiple messages left by The Landmark several days after the meeting at City Hall to follow-up on any updated information.
Asked how the complex is able to continue to get tenants if conditions are not good, Dietz said: “They promise you new carpets, they promise you a functioning swimming pool on site, laundry facilities and all these wonderful things and they don’t deliver.”
City records indicate the complex is owned by Woodland Trace, LLC of Shiloh, Illinois. City officials say it appears as if Woodland Trace LLC is part of a larger company, Cornerstone Investments Properties, LLC.
Through private sources, The Landmark was able to obtain a cell phone number for a St. Louis resident who was described as being with the ownership group. That person has not returned messages left by the newspaper.
“When we contact any individual at either Woodland Trace LLC or Cornerstone, they claim no individual responsibility but refer all communication back to the corporation,” said D.J. Gehrt, city administrator for Platte City.
Gehrt said the city’s role in this situation is very limited because of private property rights.
“We can’t make them do certain work but we can inspect new work that occurs,” he told the crowd last week.
When permits are sought by the property owner for decks, electrical and plumbing the city will perform inspections.
“When work is being done we will come inspect it and make sure the work is being done correctly,” the city administrator said.
“We cannot come into a building that does not have a permit on it and inspect it,” he added.
Gehrt said the city does feel a “moral authority” to try to facilitate discussion between the tenants, the property managers, the owners and any regulatory agencies.
“We can’t enforce certain things but we can facilitate,” he said, indicating a meeting between tenants and other agencies could be arranged in mid-July.
Gehrt said the city really has no regulatory authority in most of the matters mentioned by tenants.
Health issues should be directed to the Platte County Health Department, Gehrt indicated.
Civil legal action could be another option for tenants to consider, it was mentioned.