Editor’s note: The spelling of a name has been corrected in this story.
Black carpet glue seeps up from the floor of Alma Evans’ single-bedroom unit at the Buena Vista Springs Senior Apartment Complex. A mold-like growth spreads on a wall near her kitchen, and water has chewed holes through the soaked drywall on her bathroom ceiling and floor.
Evans said bedbugs and roaches have laid claim to large swathes in and around her second-floor apartment over the years, but a bigger concern might be the alarm system on her door frame. It hasn’t worked since she moved in, something she’d find a lot less worrisome if the complex’s security cameras were still around to deter people from running off with the 32-inch TVs once mounted in a common area down the hall.
At 76, Evans has been around long enough to live in much better places than Buena Vista, but she said she never lived anywhere worse than the apartment she now calls home near Carey Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard.
“This property in June of last year was collecting $20,000 a month from our residents, but that money wasn’t going anyplace,” she said. “Management keep making promises. I call them, I talk to them, and they lie to me.
“I’m just tired. We need a voice; we need to be heard.”
Tired is a familiar feeling for Dallas native Norma Collins, one of seven residents whose air conditioning faltered during a heat wave last month. Collins waited more than a month for Buena Vista property managers to fix her unit, which was repaired only after a Southern Nevada Health District report ordered management to remedy “uninhabitable” conditions at the 68-year-old’s apartment. Property managers with Florida-based Impro Synergies, Ltd. returned half of Collins’ next rent check in apology. She is now looking into taking the matter to small-claims court.
Richard Johnson is also weighing litigation. Johnson said he cuts the biggest monthly rent check of anyone housed at the state-subsidized complex, but only after managers began to charge him an unannounced $123 rent increase to account for a “mistake” in the rental agreement he signed two years ago.
Johnson, whose current lease stipulates 45 days written notice before a rent hike takes effect, said he didn’t find out about the move until the new, higher rate came due last April.
Ritchie Favors, 60, reports that management took almost two weeks in January to remove a body decomposing in the apartment next door. He said he had to write a letter to a judge before management agreed to re-enter the apartment to replace carpets and floor padding.
Bad as it seems indoors, Favors and others report similar problems extend well beyond the complex’s stucco walls.
“The last time they trimmed the foliage around here, it was so tall they found three homeless people living on the grounds,” Favors said. “They’re probably still sleeping here.
“I’ve seen eight different managers come through here, and it’s always been the same state of disrepair.
“Some people are scared to talk about it. I don’t give a damn. I’ve been fighting cancer for five years. I got nothing left to lose if they kick me out. I can always go back to Colorado.”
Conditions at the senior complex are no great secret to North Valley Leadership Team President Lydia Garrett. The nonprofit community activist spent years helping residents take unanswered complaints to a rotating cast of property managers — and said she watched the complex’s ownership group dodge thousands in unpaid building and health code violations — before organizing a rent strike this year.
It failed in large part, Garrett said, because of threats to evict or raise rates on tenants already scraping by on a fixed income.
“They’re intimidated,” she said. “A lot of these folks moved in without a lease. They’re just paying whatever management tells them to pay because they can’t prove what they have. They don’t know what their rights are.
“The state acts like there’s nothing wrong. But there is something wrong here.”
Garrett, who fought hard to win recent condemnation of Buena Vista’s adjacent all-ages complex, said she wouldn’t want to watch that oft-maligned building razed without seeing its managers held accountable for the senior complex they still own across the street.
“He hasn’t fixed anything, and he’s still getting away with it,” she said of the property owner. “I’m a licensed property manager, and there’s no way I get away with stuff like this. I would be in jail for stuff like this.”
Management’s unpaid fines and utility bill debts now total five figures, including more than $44,000 in water utility payments owed to the city of North Las Vegas and some $7,000 owed to NV Energy.
“We’ve placed a lien against the building because of it,” said Community Outreach manager Kathi Thomas-Gibson. “We won’t be cutting off water to senior citizens, I know that much, but I don’t know what other enforcement options we have.”
A lawsuit, Gibson said, isn’t impossible, but could be seen as cost-prohibitive in a city that teetered on the brink of bankruptcy last summer. She expects to sit down with state officials and evaluate possible alternative measures later this month.
Meanwhile the city, which has issued several citations to Buena Vista’s owners but not collected any fines, will look for state officials to follow up on threatened enforcement action should property managers fail to clean up the complex’s stagnant, algae-grown pool.
Such a move can’t come soon enough for Ward 2 City Councilwoman Pamela Goynes-Brown.
“Hopefully, this will light a fire under the state,” Goynes-Brown said, “because we’re not stopping with this at all. We’re going to keep going until it’s fixed.
“High, medium or low income, every senior has earned the right to have a nice place to live.”
State compliance officers are on the case, according to Nevada Housing Division program chief Mike Dang. Dang said two staffers have paid frequent visits to the complex and written multiple citations addressed to its owner.
For now, he hopes that will be enough to turn things around.
“I can’t emphasize enough that we want to give the new property manager some time to get things in order,” Dang said of the Florida-based company installed to oversee the complex earlier this year. “We were impressed with what we’ve heard so far, in terms of the actions they are taking.”
The state could push to revoke the complex owner’s right to house federally-subsidized tenants on the property, action Housing and Urban Development officials took against another of the ownership group’s properties in 2007.
Dang declined to say what might prompt state officials to make such a move, but said it wasn’t off the table.
“Our recourse is typically to file a report with the IRS that can lead to revocation of the owner’s (Section 42) finance tax credits,” he said. “Court action is possible, but that’s not a common alternative.”
Neither property manager Scott Kimbler nor Yashpal Kakkar, president of Creative Choice Homes, which owns the property, replied to messages left at their offices in Florida.
Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter James DeHaven at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3839.