Seven apartment complexes in Oklahoma City have an unenviable record of code violations, complaints and overdue property tax bills.
One is partially burned and inhabited by rats, cockroaches and the occasional squatter. Inside another, a tenant lives with a hole in the ceiling and carpeting that's pulled away from the floor.
Code enforcement officers documented 203 code violations between 2008 and early this year. Owners owe more than $200,000 in back taxes and unpaid liens.
Residents put up with eyesore buildings they say attract vagrants, drive down property values and contribute to an increase in crime in their neighborhoods.
Yet, the problems persist.
Oklahoma City is limited in the action it can take against owners of abandoned and neglected structures, said Russell Claus, the planning director.
Costs don't fall on property owners, he said: “The laws are skewed in favor of the building being subsidized by the taxpayers.”
The city plans to release a study this month to provide options to the city council.
The seven are:
• Courtyard Apartments, 3732 NW 23 St.
• Grand Boulevard Townhomes, 2269 NE Grand Blvd.
• Lantana Apartments, 7408 NW 10 St.
• Stonybrook West Apartments, 3109 N Portland Ave.
• University Pointe Apartments, 1509 NW 30 St.
• Property at 1420 NE 9 St.
• Property at 3720 N Pennsylvania Ave.
Officials speak out
Ward 1 City Council Member James Greiner, who lives two blocks from the Lantana, said he believes nuisance and abandoned apartments are a citywide problem.
“Those apartments need to be knocked down and used for another purpose, renovated for another purpose or reused for another purpose,” Greiner said.
“They should be used for something productive and if not, they need to go away,” he said. “It's a nuisance, an eyesore and lowers property values.”
Claus said the “standard of dilapidation is pretty low.”
“The city requires the property to be secure, in good condition, painted, the yard kept, no high grass and weeds and no serious signs of external signs of deterioration,” Claus said.
“Things have to get into a bad state of condition for us to take action.”
Citizen complaints drive the process, he said.
AMG Riverton LLC of Santa Monica, Calif., bought the Lantana for $645,000 in June 2012.
AMG Riverton's Mike Minder said he bought the Lantana because he believes the metro-area rental base is strong enough to turn the property around.
Dianna Ewing and her husband formed the Council Oaks Neighborhood Association after watching their neighborhood, where they have lived for 22 years, go downhill — in part, she said, due to problems caused by the Lantana.
“You don't see kids playing in the yard. People can't open their front doors for fresh air,” she said. “Some of the people have given up and don't care anymore.”
She blames the Lantana's multiple owners and city officials.
“They want to spend all that money downtown, but not on us,” Ewing said.
A ceiling about to cave in from water damage, nails sticking out of unfinished carpet renovations and bedbugs are just a few of the reasons why Joshua Ruark and his family want to move out of Stonybrook West when his lease expires this month.
Ruark shares a downstairs apartment with his wheelchair-bound mother while his sister lives in an upstairs apartment with a 1-year-old child.
Ruark said frequent calls to property managers are left unanswered except on the first of the month when rent is due.
“I've asked them to fix it but they never did,” Ruark said.
Messages left by phone and by a reporter and photographer at the Stonybrook West office were not returned.
Inspections for cockroaches and insects are worked as often as necessary, said Troy Skow, of the Oklahoma City-County Health Department. Landlords of multifamily residences are required to take care of the problems within 24 hours, he said.
Skow said there could be multiple reasons for unhealthy conditions.
“Sometimes we find notice wasn't given to the occupant, the property managers that spray are ineffective,” Skow said. “The landlords don't spray at all or the tenants themselves are causing the conditions due to filthy living.”
Properties rarely seized
The city aims to get the owners to clean up and secure their properties, said Charles Locke, code enforcement superintendent. The city looks for owners to board up buildings that are structurally sound and to repair or demolish those that are not.
The city generally spends $150,000 to $250,000 annually to demolish hazardous buildings, he said. Using city resources to tear down the Lantana would take several years' worth of funds, he said.
“Clearly, a $1 million dollar demolition using city of Oklahoma City taxpayer funding for this one property consumes several years' worth of annual demolition allotments, drastically impacts the city of Oklahoma City and monies available for various citywide improvements,” he said.
The cost of many demolitions far outreaches the value of the property left behind, he said.
“Many owners never pay the liens and the property ends up in the county tax sale or the county owning the property itself if not sold,” Locke said.
Oklahoma County can seize property through a property tax lien.
Properties three years behind on taxes are auctioned the second Monday of June for two-thirds of the property value, said Butch Freeman, Oklahoma County treasurer. Properties that don't sell go to the county, he said.
After Oklahoma County becomes owner it is responsible for maintenance, he said.
Freeman said the city can have a property deeded to it after it fails to sell at auction, “but that rarely happens.” The city can foreclose but “rarely chooses to do so,” he said.
Claus said changing state law will be among the recommendations in his upcoming report.
“There is a political will on the city council to solve these problems” Claus said.
“We only have a limited capacity to solve this issue. It's going to take legislative action to solve the problem.”
Rep. Seneca Scott, D-Tulsa, is working on legislation he calls the “Abandoned and Neglected Properties Act.”
Owners would be given one year to recognize issues plaguing a property before improvement and redevelopment would take place, Scott said.
The bill would allow for a third party such as Habitat for Humanity to partner with owners to improve their property.
“These are creative ways to solve the problem with property owners and cities without having to tear down the buildings,” Scott said.