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When tenant gives up on landlord, city finds 30 violations

A woman wanted her home repaired, but will move out
Posted at 6:23 PM, Feb 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-14 17:37:29-05

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Francina Wilson's washer and dryer didn't work. She put a plastic bag over a ceiling vent to prevent mice from falling onto her bed again. The fuse box hangs loose inside its frame.

Most of her income goes to Orange Property Management for this Omaha rental. In return, Wilson said, her maintenance requests are ignored, and when a repair is done, it's less than adequate and not up to city code.

"Once I give them what I have, half of the time I’m struggling to buy toilet paper," she said. "I’m struggling. I could open my freezer and show you I’m struggling."

Wilson called Orange Property Management, a local group, more than a dozen times in a day, never having her call answered. She showed 3 News Now Investigators her call log.

Wilson had enough. She called the city (and 3 News Now Investigators). But for Wilson and other low-income renters in substandard housing, the decision to call city inspectors for help isn't an easy one. If forced to leave, they'll be on the hook to find a new, affordable unit, pay a deposit, and maybe prove they have sufficient income.

"I’ve asked, and I’ve asked, and I’ve been asking," Wilson said about Orange Property Management. "I can’t ask no more."

City inspectors found 30 code violations: one critical, 18 high-severity violations, and 11 other violations. The city document indicates Wilson's home has inadequate heating, window leaks and improper emergency exit options. Several things were improperly installed and work was done without inspections as required.

"This is not fair. Just because I’m disabled, it doesn’t mean that I’m not supposed to live like I’m human. It’s very unfair," said Wilson, who lives on disability income.

Orange Property Management said it is addressing the violations, which 3 News Now Investigators first brought to their attention five days after the notice is dated. The city notified the property owner, not the management company. Orange manages properties for their owners.

"The conditions of the apartment unit at that property are not an accurate representation of how the company maintains this property or any property it manages," said Jeri Schlickbernd, CEO of Orange Property Management and DVG Realty in a written statement. Schlickbernd initially agreed to speak on camera, but later declined.

Wilson said maintenance workers made a habit of showing up and leaving a note on the door, but not knocking. In the statement, Schlickbernd said Wilson had been uncooperative and had denied access to the property. Orange Property Management's full statement is at the bottom of this article.

"They need to stop doing us like that, because at the end of the day, we’re human beings like they are," Wilson said. "We deserve to live just like the next person."

The owner set up a Limited Liability Corporation, known commonly as an LLC, specific to Wilson's building and its neighboring structures, called "4815 Ames LLC." 3 News Now Investigators have been unable to reach the property owner for comment.

Establishing an LLC for individual properties is common practice, a housing lawyer at Family Housing Advisory Services told 3 News Now Investigators. It's essentially a shell corporation, the lawyer said, designed to protect the owner from liability and to prevent people from easily discovering other properties under the same umbrella.

A new Omaha rental ordinance, yet to take full effect, requires mandatory inspections every ten years. Inspections will start with "problem properties" this year, and scheduled inspections for all other properties will begin in 2022.

Read more: Mayor Stothert reaches compromise with City Council over landlord registry

Wilson's initial reaction to the violations wasn't relief. She was afraid of losing a home after her orders to vacate from the city and Orange Property Management. Wilson recently found a new apartment and will move in soon.

"Our clients are at the mercy of the market and at the mercy of what is available and what they can afford," said Scott Mertz, who helps people with housing issues at Legal Aid of Nebraska.

"A lot of our clients do have to make some pretty tough decisions about whether or not they want to move... if we press the issue with the landlord, or, if the risk of homelessness is so high, that they’d rather just deal with what they have right now."

Statements

Orange Property Management provided this written statement on Friday, Feb. 7:

"Orange Property Management did not become aware of the code violations cited by the City of Omaha Planning Department for a rental unit located at 4420 N. 48th Street until it was contacted by KMTV News on February 5, 2020. The conditions of the apartment unit at that property are not an accurate representation of how the company maintains this property or any property it manages. The company and its staff have had regular communication with the resident renting the apartment unit that is the subject of the code violations since it began managing the property, and it consistently addressed any maintenance requests from the resident. Many weeks prior to the resident requesting the City Planning Department to inspect the apartment unit, the company attempted to repair the items cited as code violations but maintenance staff were denied access by the resident. This resident has a history of not cooperating with the company to make requested repairs or not allowing maintenance staff entry to make repairs. Had the resident complied with Nebraska law by allowing maintenance staff to enter the unit to make the necessary repairs the code violations would not exist.

The company is immediately taking action to address the code violations and is working to provide the resident with contact information of organizations that can assist her and her family with finding new housing. Orange Property Management and the property owner welcome the opportunity to work with the City to ensure the property is in compliance with the city code prior to renting the apartment unit again in the future."

After follow-up questions, Orange Property Management provided this statement on Monday:

"As indicated in our previous statement, Orange Property Management did not become aware of the code violations until contacted by KMTV News on February 5, 2020. The letter by the City of Omaha Planning Department was mailed to the address for the owner of the property, who states that he received it the day before you called. With regard to the question as to whether the company was previously aware of the code violations, the company directs you to its previous statement. The company and its staff have had regular communication with the resident renting the apartment unit that is the subject of the code violations since it began managing the property, and it consistently addressed any maintenance requests from the resident. Many weeks prior to the resident requesting the City Planning Department to inspect the apartment unit, the company attempted to repair the items cited as code violations but maintenance staff were denied access by the resident. This resident has a history of not cooperating with the company to make requested repairs or not allowing maintenance staff entry to make repairs. Had the resident complied with Nebraska law by allowing maintenance staff to enter the unit to make the necessary repairs the code violations would not exist.

The company is unable to respond to any questions regarding a resident’s repeated requests for maintenance without knowing the name of the resident and the date of the numerous telephone calls. The company has a staff of three that receive calls for maintenance requests. If all lines are busy, the calls roll to a voicemail for residents to leave a message for such requests. Further, all residents are able to make maintenance requests through their online portal 24/7.

Concerning the issue of loose wiring on the exterior of the building, the company is aware of black cables on the exterior of the building that were installed and are maintained by the cable service provider. The broken light fixture mentioned in the city violations will be repaired by end of day tomorrow. Our maintenance manager was onsite today and measured for this fixture."

This post was edited to add a hyperlink.