Despite complaints, problems persist with troubled apartment complexes in Oklahoma City

Seven apartment complexes in Oklahoma City have an unenviable record of code violations, complaints and overdue property tax bills.
BY JOEY STIPEK jstipek@opubco.com Published: May 6, 2013

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.

Seeking solutions

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.



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