Residents at Durham’s Garden Terrace apartments are calling on their landlord to halt evictions and fix what they call “unsafe living conditions.”

Durhamites organized with Bull City Tenants United protested in Raleigh yesterday claiming that mold and other repair and maintenance issues at the apartment complex in Lakewood have gone unaddressed.

Holding signs with slogans like “Stop all evictions” and “Repairs without displacement,” tenants gathered outside Wilson Property Management, which manages Garden Terrace, on Monday. A local TV station reported that Wilson owner Beth Black and property owner Jonathan Dayan of D.T.I. Holdings Management met with the tenants.

In a statement emailed to the INDY on December 2, Black and Dayan refuted tenants’ claims. 

“We have a dedicated maintenance technician on site 5 days a week,” they wrote. “We also offer 24-hour emergency maintenance after business hours. We have used multiple forms of communications to relay to tenants the proper procedures to place a maintenance request should there be an issue in their unit.

“All work orders we have received prior to this complaint have been completed,” they added.

Residents demanded that management work out a lease payment plan with tenant Justine Jacobs, a Durham native and mother of two.

“Like many other people during the pandemic, I had fallen behind on rent, but I had worked out a payment plan,” Jacobs said in a Bull City Tenants United press release. “Out of nowhere they told me I had 60 days to leave, and they want to illegally charge me $400 for the repairs I’ve been requesting for months.”

The statement from Dayan and Black addressed Jacobs’ case specifically.

“She is not under eviction and has never been filed on by Wilson Property Management,” they wrote. “She has held a balance on her account since before the pandemic started. She made a payment arrangement back in September but has not adhered to this arrangement. She has not been charged for any repairs…. Tenants are only charged for any repairs that go beyond normal wear and tear.”

The residents delivered a petition—which was allegedly signed by 77 percent of tenants in the complex—calling for more regular repairs and trash removal, security cameras and better lighting for residents’ safety, and a plan to keep tenants in their homes whenever possible, among other demands.

“We have witnessed discrimination based on immigration status, which is illegal under equal housing law,” the letter claims. “We assert our right to just treatment. Those who wish to sign a lease for one year or more should be able to do so. We want to negotiate a collective lease that affirms our rights as much as our responsibilities.”

“In keeping with the idea that housing exists for the community and is not solely as a means to profit, we are exercising our right to collectively negotiate the rent, as well as our right to demand that the rent will not increase if there are outstanding repairs and maintenance requests,” the tenants added.

Dayan and Black challenged the tenants’ assertions, writing that “Wilson Property Management strictly abides by fair housing laws,” and adding that “A third-party company handles the processing of all applications to ensure the guidelines are followed.”

The statement says that “lighting has been addressed and serviced by Duke Energy” and that “No one at this property has been issued an eviction notice since the start of the pandemic.”

“Regarding the multiple mentions of ‘evictions,’ we have abided by all government mandates that halted all evictions until 12/31/2020,” the statement says. “We have provided a list to every resident that notes multiple places to seek assistance if they are not able to pay their rent.”

New research shows that evictions caused more than 10,000 COVID-19 deaths, and have resulted in close to half a million more cases of the virus. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper recently extended protections against eviction through the end of the year, but it’s unclear what will happen on January 1, 2021. But despite pandemic-era protections, tenants across North Carolina still face eviction, reporters have found, in part because the process is “murky.”

Bull City Tenants United shared images and video with the INDY from inside several apartments that appeared to show widespread mold problems and items in need of repair. In a press release, Garden Terrace resident Fany Sarmiento claimed that she’s had to deal with not only mold and leaking pipes, but also broken air conditioning and heating. Sarmiento alleged “racist treatment by the landlords and property management company” but did not elaborate or provide specifics.

“The landlord’s plan is to flip all these units,” she said in the release. “They use terror and neglect so people will be forced out, and then they renovate and hike the rent. I’ve seen this before, when I lived in New York. The only way to fight it is with the unity of all the neighbors, which is what we’re building.”

Multiple tenants claimed that they’ve seen essential repairs go ignored, only for their neighbors to be displaced once their units become unlivable.

“If we let them do this to one neighbor, they’ll just keep doing it,” Garden Terrace resident Martha Mejía said in the press release. “We are forming an organization to fight together as a union and to demand a legally binding contract so we can resolve all of these issues, not just the ones the landlords feel like dealing with.”

Dayan and Black disputed the claims about repairs, emphasizing that if they’re not aware of needed maintenance work, there’s little they can do to address issues. Only three units (out of 56) responded to a request to allow exterminators in mid-November, they wrote, and when management tried to solicit specific repair requests last month, they only received a few replies.

“We asked that the residents respond to our notice with a list of repairs needed so that our maintenance team could prepare for the visit,” their statement says. “We only received a response from 6 of the 56 occupied units with maintenance requests. All of these requests were completed on Wednesday, November 18.”

This article was updated on December 2 to include responses from Property Manager Beth Black and owner Jonathan Dayan. 

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