What started out as a battle between tenants and the management at Tulsa’s Vista Shadow Mountain Apartments over an unpaid water bill has morphed into a scramble for housing after the fire marshal ruled the entire complex unsafe to live in, giving tenants mere days to find a new home.
Months ago, Vista Shadow Mountain Apts., which has seen several changes in out-of-state management in just the past year, blamed its tenants for a roughly $100,000 unpaid water bill to the city. For their part, tenants responded to local media explaining that they have been paying their bills on time. Tenants say the complex has suffered many malfunctions and water cut offs over the past few months with extreme delays in maintenance.
Last week, the complex finally paid the overdue water bill. It lists Isaac Perlmutter, a New York-based managing member of P Vista Shadow Mountain LLC as a majority owner of the property since January, according to the Tulsa World.
Tulsa Fire Dept. rules apt. complex unsafe
Most recently however, amidst visits to the dilapidated complex from state legislators, city councilors and nonprofit organizations concerned about the conditions, the Tulsa Fire Department inspected and issued a violation that says residents have until July 21 to move and the property owners have until the 28th to “properly secure” the building.
“We’ve found even worse conditions,” TFD Assistant Fire Marshal, Captain Lorenzer Holmes told KTUL. “Like I say, walls missing, ceilings not intact, open electrical, foundations falling apart. Fire can travel very fast and we can have a building fire very quickly.”
The impending removal of dozens of families comes as the state legislature considers taking a fresh look at Oklahoma’s decades-old tenant and landlord laws. Many in the community have begun to highlight the ways in which out-of-state landlords and management companies take advantage of Oklahoma’s loose regulations to the detriment of working-class families.
“Tulsa has the 11th highest eviction rate in the nation. It feeds into the city’s problem of homelessness and has a crippling impact on families. Eviction isn’t just a symptom of poverty. The way some of these real estate professionals practice their trade, it’s a generator of poverty,” Rep. John Waldron (D-Tulsa) wrote in a recent op-ed.
Reporters with The Black Wall Street Times visited Vista Shadow at the end of June. Walking through the complex, many areas looked uninhabited and from the outside looking in, many units looked uninhabitable. We were able to view the very violations cited by the Tulsa Fire Department: open walls in apartments without wallboard, electrical hazards, open ceilings, and other unsafe conditions.
We spoke with tenants who said they have no idea where they were going to go.
Jennifer: “I’m homeless”
Jennifer, who asked not to reveal her last name, had been a tenant at Shadow Vista for over a year. She was notified that she would have to move out at the beginning of July and was given less than two weeks notice.
“Maintenance is really horrible around here. I’ve been without air, without heat. My house got broken into and they didn’t come fix the door. They just kind of bolted it back together,” Jennifer told The Black Wall Street Times.
She said she’s been living with mold for months and no one came to fix it until after she was notified her lease would not be renewed.
“How they’re getting me to leave is they didn’t renew my lease. But they didn’t renew my lease because they knew they were getting ready to put people out,” Jennifer said.
“And my apartment’s had mold for over a year. They didn’t come to take it out until after my lease was up. They just put a note on the door. I don’t have a place to go,” Jennifer added.
In a follow-up conversation on July 13, we asked Jennifer if she’d found any resources.
“No, I’m homeless,” she responded in a text message. “Me and my mom. She’s disabled, [we’re] living out of my bags.”
Renee: “Apts. hanging on by a thread”
We also spoke with a tenant who was moved from a unit that took in water damage. Renee is a tenant who moved into Shadow Vista in February, hoping to quickly find a place before her baby would be born.
“At that point in time I was about 17 weeks pregnant, and we had just moved in. We had a one bedroom, 850 square feet, and they came to us and they asked us if we were okay to vacate,” Renee told The Black Wall Street Times.
Renee said they offered her family the option to break their lease and move out with good rental history. But with a baby on the way, Renee wanted a place fast, so they accepted a smaller studio unit at Vista Shadow Mountain Apts. Then came week after week of water shutoffs and malfunctions, with massive delays in maintenance and upkeep.
“Don’t get me wrong, like I know they’re trying to get their sh*t together. And like they’re trying to renovate and stuff but the way that they’re doing their tenants is dirty,” Renee said.
Renee pointed this reporter to a railing on a staircase next to her unit at Vista Shadow Mountain. The metal railing was so damaged it looked as though the staircase might break down at any moment.
“That’s like a metaphor for how the apartment is hanging on by a thread,” Renee said pointing to the dilapidated structure.
Renee, like the remaining tenants at Vista Shadow Mountain have until July 21 to find a new home.
Officials, non-profits work to provide resources, temporary housing
Notably, nonprofit organizations like Tulsa Housing Solutions and James Mission are working to re-house folks and provide moving supplies. The effort is being supported by the city via District 7 Tulsa City Councilor Lori Decter Wright. Shadow Vista resides in her jurisdiction.
“The fire marshal has determined that the fire dept. will be on fire watch here 24 hours a day and unfortunately that accelerates the necessity for these residents to consider moving immediately,” Wright said in a recent update to the Tulsa World.
“We’re working on standing up some local hotels that will take these folks in on a temporary basis as they transition to more permanent stable housing that is healthy and safe,” she added.
Residents of Vista Shadow Mountain Apartments who still need a place to live can fill out a form from Tulsa Housing Solutions. James Mission is continuing to provide housing supplies to residents and can be contacted at their website: http://www.jamesmission.org/
The city is also reaching out to local landlords who are interested in assisting with housing residents by encouraging them to fill out a survey for the TAEO Director of Housing Development and Incentives.