The Investigators: Nightmare on Elm Grove Part II - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

The Investigators: Nightmare on Elm Grove Part II


9News Investigators have uncovered a vile situation at a government-funded apartment complex in Baton Rouge. Raw sewage, mold, and pests have chased people from their homes.

Money generated from tax revenue helps pay the rent.

The federal government has launched a probe of its own following tenant's complaints to 9News Investigators.

As soon as the sun rises, children and parents who live a Baton Rouge's Elm Grove Garden hurry outside to enjoy the fresh air. Many of them said they do it because their living quarters are disgusting. From the busted pipes, broken windows, mildew, and pests, Elm Grove Garden is crawling with problems.

Roaches ravage through Charisma Williams' apartment. They have become family to her and her three small children who live in an apartment unit with no working air conditioning. She is not alone.

The floors in Candis Robinson's apartment are rotting from months of battling broken pipes under the kitchen sink.

The 9news Investigators Team found similar problems in other apartments, along with some of the balconies not fully bolted down, exposed wires, and busted security cameras.

Residents said the property manager ignores their complaints.

“I hear not a word, no word,” Williams said.

“I go and try to talk to him about, ok what are you going to do about his? Well? That's all I get,” Alisha Jones said.

9News Investigators found the property manager, Joe Dominguez, cutting grass on the property. At first, he did not want to comment on the situation. But once Investigator, Cheryl Mercedes, peppered him with questions, he started talking.

“They've got a roach problem here that's out of control on top of no air conditioning. There are children in diapers walking around,” Mercedes stated.

“No. They have AC,” Dominguez insisted.

“We've been in an apartment complex with three small children, two of them in diapers, no air conditioning and roaches crawling all over the place,” Mercedes stated.

“I don't know where you were because,” Dominguez said.

“The children know the roaches, and they know which ones are mean and which ones are nice. That's sad,” Mercedes said.

“What do you have to say about that Mr. Dominguez? What are you going to do to fix it,” Mercedes asked.

“What am I going to do to fix it? I'm going to do everything they (the owners) let me do,” Dominguez responded.

Dominguez claims the owner of the complex, Ed Oliver of La Real Property Holdings, has him on a tight budget.

Oliver has a Housing Assistance Payment Contract with Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

According to HUD, tenants who live at Elm Grove Garden pay 30% of their adjusted income. HUD pays 70% to the landlord.

“How much are they (tenants) paying,” Mercedes asked Dominguez.

“Some are not paying rent,” Dominguez said.

“Tax payers are paying that for them. As a tax payer, I don't like what I'm seeing,” Mercedes said.

Dominguez agreed. He said money is so tight he cannot afford professional pest control. So he does it himself.

“How often do you spray these apartments for pests,” Mercedes asked.

“As often as they (tenants) send me a work order,” Dominguez responded.

“So if they don't send you a work order, they don't get pest control,” Mercedes asked.

“If I do an inspection and I see there's a problem then I start bombing the pests,” Dominguez responded.

Dominguez said he has made a number of improvements to the property, including spending $10,000 on new AC units.

Still, some tenants are without working air.

“There's no AC. Maybe the people don't know how to turn their AC on. You think maybe that's the issue? Maybe you can show them how to turn their AC on. Can you come show them because if they have a unit and it's not connected or they don't know how to use it, what good is it,” Mercedes asked.

9News Investigators followed Dominguez up to Charisma Williams' apartment and waited on the balcony as Dominguez went inside to check. He returned to the balcony a few minutes later.

“Apparently her AC is out of order,” Dominguez said.

“Have you seen the roaches in there,” Mercedes asked.

Dominguez nodded.

“How soon are you going to call a professional exterminator,” Mercedes asked.

“As soon as I get done doing this,” Dominguez responded.

9News Investigators followed Dominguez into his office and waited while he made the call.

Two days later 9News Investigators learned Dominguez is no longer employed at Elm Grove Garden Apartments.

HUD spokeswoman, Patricia Campbell, told 9News Investigators the property was scheduled for inspection in September of 2013. But, she said, when the inspector showed up he was ordered off the property.

Regional Property Manager for La Real Property Holdings, Jeanette Dominguez, who is not related to Joe Dominguez, agreed to an interview. 9News Investigators showed her pictures capturing some of the issues around Elm Grove Garden.

“Oh, wow! I can tell you our policy at Elm Grove is that maintenance responds to all emerging issues immediately or as soon as possible, Jeanette Dominguez said.

She said only a select few tenants are unhappy at the complex, and that their complaints had not been addressed because the tenants will not allow maintenance crews inside their apartments.

Jeanette also pointed to some of the improvements made at the complex, insisting most of the units are in good shape.

“HUD is telling me they sent inspectors here last September, and their inspectors were kicked off of the property and not allowed to go into apartments. What do you know about that,” Mercedes asked.

“I do know an inspector was there and allowed onto the property,” Jeanette responded.

Jeanette claims Elm Grove passed the 2013 inspection with a score of 92. When 9News Investigators asked to see the document, Jeanette instead emailed a HUD inspection report from the year 2010 that shows a score of 91. She has not yet supplied any documents showing an inspection was done in 2013.

HUD sent a letter to the property owner on Tuesday. It notes the agency received numerous complaints from residents at Elm Grove Garden. It also states, in response to an investigation by WAFB, "Our office conducted an on-site visit on Friday July 11, 2014 and found the conditions to be unacceptable."

The letter lists the HUD inspector's findings and states the owner has seven working days to address and repair all items marked as emergency health and safety issues. It also states the owner must come up with a long term maintenance plan. If not, HUD could cancel its contract with the complex and give the tenants vouchers to move to another government-funded complex.

Jeanette Dominguez said she has hired a team of professionals to tackle the problems.

“Anything that is required, that is necessary, we will make sure it's done,” Dominguez said.

Campbell said, normally when an inspector is not allowed on a property it becomes cause for concern. However, she said, because of the government shutdown last year the matter got “lost in the shuffle.”

She added HUD is committed to making sure Elm Grove is a safe and sanitary place to live.

Inspectors are due to revisit the property next week.

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