GREENSBORO, N.C. — Since a deadly fire killed five children at the Summit Avenue Apartments two weeks ago, the property has come under public and local government scrutiny. The City of Greensboro has moved to take some action to address complaints from tenants about the state of the property. After two days of inspections, officials found more than 200 housing code violations including exposed wiring, sewer leaks, and rats.
The fire department said the fire started from unattended cooking in the kitchen. However, a surviving family member remained vehement that he had complained about the stove in the unit.
City housing code inspectors returned this week to check apartments at 3100 Summit Avenue and their findings mean property owners now have some explaining to do.
Inspectors found faulty wiring, bad smoke detectors, and even a sewer leak. They found more than 200 violations in two days of inspections which they have consolidated into the Housing Code Compliance portal.
"We had a couple of units that had what we deemed a major violation that would result in the immediate condemnation which is no water, one had a sewer leak and one had no smoke detectors. We made a call to the management company while we were on site and were able to get those rectified," said Elizabeth Benton, the Code Compliance Manager for the City of Greensboro.
Benton said the inspectors found at least 5 violations in each of the 42 units in the complex.
City officials have said part of the reason problems with that apartment complex have festered is the language barrier as many tenants don't know how to report problems to get them fixed. Majority of the tenants are refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo and only speak Swahili, Lingala, Kikongo or French.
"Some apartments they don't have light, some they don't have electricity, some they don't have water so it's very difficult to live here. The place is like it is not in Greensboro," said Walwendo Polo of the various problems they have had to deal with. Polo is one of a few tenants who speaks English and many of his neighbors go to him for help with interpreting.
"The most problems they have, the people living here, is they don't know where to go and they don't speak English," Polo said, that's why many problems are unreported or ignored.
Reports showed there are indeed lots of problems at the apartment complex. Housing inspectors looked at all 42 units in the complex, and with the help of interpreters listened to tenants' complaints and found various problems.
Among them, various electrical problems like exposed wiring, poorly labeled panels and fuses, sewer problems and bad smoke detectors. They also found plumbing issues, broken doors, windows and guardrails, peeling walls and a hole in a kitchen ceiling.
"If you are in this house more than two hours if you stay here you can't stay here because it is very hot there is no air-conditioning in the house," said Polo about the broken down or unreplaced space air-conditioning units.
"If you can see the stove over here the way it is sometimes it's working and sometimes it's not working," added Polo. He also said his refrigerator had turned into a community fridge for his neighbors to store food because theirs don't work. He hopes the inspection makes a difference.
"I hope that things will change and if things change it will even make our lives easier to be very good and will be happy with this apartment too."
"We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of five children in the fire on Sat, May 12, 2018. We express our deepest and most heartfelt sympathy to the family of the victims of this accident. All of us at ARCO are devastated that one of our tenant families has endured such a horrible loss," said
Irene Agapion-Martinez, a broker for ARCO Realty, owners of the property. Agapion-Martinez said they have received and are reviewing the city's report and plan to take prompt and effective action.
Below is the full statement for ARCO;
"First and foremost, ARCO Realty and members of our family are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of five children in the fire on Sat, May 12, 2018. We express our deepest and most heartfelt sympathy to the family of the victims of this accident. All of us at ARCO are devastated that one of our tenant families has endured such a horrible loss.
Much of the news coverage of this event mixes two unrelated issues. The fire department determined that unattended cooking caused the fire, NOT a maintenance problem with the stove, smoke detectors or a failure to meet other life safety requirements in unit 3100-E Summit. The fire was a tragic accident unrelated to anything ARCO did or did not do.
The entire apartment complex, including unit 3100-E, was fully renovated eighteen months ago. During that process, each passed inspections by local code officials and received a certificate of occupancy. The tenants of unit 3100-E were the first to occupy the unit after it was fully renovated. Since then, ARCO responded to and promptly addressed all maintenance requests received from them.
ARCO is committed to providing safe, affordable housing for its tenants. ARCO does not object to local officials inspecting properties. ARCO fully supports the efforts of City and other local officials to maintain standards and takes seriously any concerns raised by tenants or City officials. We have just received the City’s report. We will study it and take prompt, effective action to address all legitimate concerns and code compliance issues identified in the report."