The Investigators: Nightmare on Elm Grove

The Investigators: Nightmare on Elm Grove

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Federal inspectors have released their review of an apartment complex infested with issues.

In July, The 9News Investigators called Housing and Urban Development's attention to the filth and the possible dangers of people living at Elm Grove Gardens. The federal government said they had it fixed. The Investigators got a certified inspector to take another look at the property.

There are some noticeable changes at Elm Grove Gardens. The balconies have been repaired, new cameras have been installed, and a new maintenance crew was hired.

Early last July the 9News Investigators responded to calls for help. They found families living there with no air conditioning, children playing near roaches, and busted pipes.

Within days of The Investigators' visit, HUD sent a letter to the property owner stating, "In response to an investigation by WAFB, our office conducted our on-site visit and found the conditions to be unacceptable."

HUD gave the owner seven days to address emergency issues and 90 days to repair all deficiencies. The emergency issues were addressed. However, residents said, many complaints and work orders went unanswered.

Candis Robinson, who was having plumbing problems, moved into a different unit at Elm Grove. But she said the problems followed her.

"I'm scared to go into the kitchen. I don't cook. I go out and buy food because I'm scared of the mice," Robinson said.

She said her brand new air conditioning unit does not work.

"When it's hot, we are hot. When it's cold, we are cold," Robinson said.

Forget washing your hands in the bathroom sink. She only has hot water and it is everywhere.

"I basically put this bucket under there and unscrew the pipe and I let the water run into the bucket," Robinson said.

She is worried her children could get burned.

"I've been in there (office) at least two or three times. I went in and told her (manager) about everything at the same time," Robinson said.

The 9News Investigators were there when HUD inspectors returned to inspect the property on Oct. 21. The regional property manager, Jeanette Dominguez, did not want The Investigators there.

"If you could please leave the property until we're done and then I can answer any questions you have," Dominguez said.

Dominguez promised The Investigators a sit down interview where she would detail the repairs made to the property. Three weeks later, she changed her mind on the interview, but sent invoices and receipts totaling nearly $25,000 in repairs.

According to the HUD Inspection Report, Elm Grove Gardens passed the October inspection with a score of 77 percent. HUD considers a 60 percent a passing score.

The Investigators contacted home inspector Kevin Dinkel to get a second opinion. He has been an inspector for 25 years.

"We do inspect apartment complexes on a regular basis," Dinkel said.

He visited three apartments at Elm Grove Garden. He walked through the first unit, checked smoke detectors, looked at light fixtures, and checked the faucets, and electrical outlets.

"The outlet is not ground faulted. Outlet's near a water source," Dinkel said.

A ground fault interrupter is a small receptacle that prevents people from getting shocked. Dinkel said this one failed.

He next noticed there is nothing keeping the stove from tipping forward.

"They're not supposed to move," Dinkel said.

In the bathroom he points out several things.

"Even if it's not visible you could have mold growth behind it," Dinkel said.

In the hallway closet he notices a potential fire hazard. A vent pipe from the furnace does not have enough clearance.

"As it goes through the roof, it shouldn't touch anything flammable and it's against the roof decking," Dinkel said.

"Would this apartment pass your inspection?" 9News Investigator Cheryl Mercedes asked.

"We don't pass or fail them, but there are a lot of safety issues as an inspector we would recommend to be corrected," Dinkel responded.

Dinkel found similar issues in the second apartment. The tenant said that one passed HUD's inspection.

"There are no smoke detectors in this bedroom. I'm really surprised by that," Dinkel said.

Dinkel also said this apartment has no ground faults, no anti-tip bracket on the stove, and evidence of a plumbing problem so bad he said it could spur mold growth.

"I can't imagine this passing any kind of inspection," Dinkel said.

Dinkel said the deficiencies he found are quick, inexpensive fixes.

On his way to the next apartment, Dinkel noticed a neglected outdoor stairway.

"You can see the steel is all corroded, and it's not there. The stairway could fall," Dinkel said.

He also noticed the support beam was not secured.

"There are holes. You're supposed to bolt it or secure with a fastener to the concrete," Dinkel said.

It is right outside of Latasha White's apartment, who said maintenance crews have ignored her complaints on the stairway and her apartment.

"I was expecting them to come in the apartment and do everything the correct way instead of doing patch up work," White said.

She got a new bedroom door, a working faucet handle on her tub, and a new AC unit since The Investigators visited in July. However, her faucet is still leaking hot water. She has to go under her sink to turn it off. White has to manually flush the toilet.

"I have to raise the cover off and stick my hand in there and flush the toilet," White said.

Dinkel noticed there are also potential safety hazards in White's apartment.

"You've got no smoke detector, no ground faults, no anti-tip on free standing range, and missing screws in the breaker panels," Dinkel said.

White said when she and others go to the apartment manager's office it is often a wasted effort.

"It's closed more than it's open so we can't go complain or write up anything because the office is always closed," White said.

The people who live here say they are not looking for a hand out. They simply want to feel safe in the place they call home.

"I'm hoping and praying once this interview airs, they will take their time to go to one apartment at a time and do it the right way. That's what we wanted in the beginning anyway," White said.

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