Mableton renters decry apartment living conditions
May 4—MABLETON — This week, activists and residents protested the living conditions at apartment complexes in the Riverside area.
"We have to have stronger tenant protections. We have to force those landlords to come to the table and make good," said Alison Johnson of the Atlanta-based Housing Justice League. "... It's our money that feeds the landlords. So we deserve a safe, decent place to live, and so do our children."
For years, residents have complained about unsafe living conditions, including rodents, insects and mold, at apartment complexes in south Cobb. They protested when Republican Mike Boyce was chairman of the Cobb Board of Commissioners. And they're continuing to protest under the administration of his successor, Democrat Lisa Cupid.
The Cobb Board of Commissioners last fall adopted a new program of regular inspections for apartment complexes. Under the ordinance, apartment owners and managers are required to hire an independent certified inspector to examine 25% of their units in a given year, with all units in a complex being inspected over the course of four years. Failure to comply could result in the loss of a property owner's certification.
The Riverside area is included in the new city of Mableton, which recently held elections for its mayor and City Council after residents voter to incorporate last fall. Code enforcement is one of a limited number of services the city is envisioned to provide.
'It's not right'
Davita Carter has lived at the Residence at Riverside Road, formerly known as Parkview, for three years. Carter, who is disabled and uses a walker, said an unsafe ramp at her complex was removed but never replaced.
Carter also said she is dealing with health issues which her doctor attributed to her contracting the bacteria H. pylori. H. pylori can damage stomach tissue, cause ulcers and lead to cancer. It can be passed via unsafe water, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
"What does it take for them to come and test our water? That is a big issue," Carter said of her landlord, Dasmen Residential.
Sean Landsberg, Dasmen's senior vice president of operations, said the company was looking into claims made at Tuesday's press conference, but did not provide a response by press time.
Another tenant of Residence at Riverside Road, William Pittman, said his unit caught fire in early March. He blamed the fire on faulty wiring in his unit.
The fire started in his kitchen, Pittman said, before he was able to put it out with a fire extinguisher. His kitchen is now unusable, so he eats out for his meals.
Dasmen, meanwhile, has not made the necessary repairs, instead trying to paint over the burn marks, Pittman said.
Management has not made another unit available to him, he added.
"It's not right ... I'm not in good living conditions at all," Pittman said.
Local tenant's rights activist Monica DeLancy, who ran unsuccessfully for the Mableton council, alleged that Dasmen is evicting her from her home at another one of their properties, Silver Creek Crossings, in retaliation for her advocacy.
DeLancy said her landlord refused to extend her lease and stopped accepting her rental payments. Her case is pending in court.
Ben Williams, president of the Cobb chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said residents in Riverside aren't getting a fair shake from their landlords.
"The conditions in which they live, the conditions for which they pay rent, don't match," Williams said. "It seems as though more money goes to the apartment ownership than the suitable housing that all of them are entitled to."
Williams referenced the continued frustration among residents about living conditions.
"So often it is like a cry in the wilderness," he said. "This is not our first visit or involvement in the apartments over here in Riverside."
Rich Pellegrino, the field director for the Cobb SCLC, decried the "deplorable conditions" at the apartments, whose owners "change just like the weather." He also said the practice of putting residents' items on the street when evicting them is barbaric.
Johnson, of the Housing Justice League, said the lack of accountability for absentee landlords is a problem that plagues the entire state.
"We do have a crisis ... where we have allowed corporate landlords to use this state as a playground on poor people's backs," Johnson said.
DeLancy collected signatures for a letter addressed to Michael Owens, Mableton's mayor-elect, with a list of requests. The requests include a temporary moratorium on evictions, ending the practice of evictees' belongings being placed on the street, banning evictions during December (because of the cold), legal representation for eviction defendants, adoption of a code enforcement ordinance that mirrors Cobb's, and requiring property owners to provide tenants who are evicted with two months of rental assistance.
Owens told the MDJ he had not received the letter from DeLancy, but that he encourages people to share ideas with the city about how it can improve residents' lives.
"The city is here, but we do not have any transitional services yet," Owens said. "So I think that's important to note, just to set expectations about where we are. But for anybody that lives within the city, we want to make sure they're taken care of, and we want to make sure that when people are paying to live somewhere, that that place is habitable."
For the foreseeable future, the county will continue to provide code enforcement in the area.
When Cupid, who was first elected to represent south Cobb's District 4 on the commission in 2012, won the race for county chair in 2020, Monique Sheffield was elected to succeed her in the District 4 seat.
Sheffield said the inspection program the Board of Commissioners adopted went into effect this year. It's too early to judge the program's implementation, she said, because inspection reports won't be submitted to the county until the end of 2023, when companies apply for their business license renewal.
Sheffield said many of the apartment complexes in Riverside are aging and have not been properly maintained. Older buildings were also not built to the same code standards that are now in place.
"Of course the other thing is having absentee landlords, and they're not invested in the community ... Once an owner purchases a property and they realize the amount of work and repairs that need to be done, they just sell it off to the next unsuspecting buyer," Sheffield said.
That complicates code enforcement, she said, because when properties are sold, "they get a chance to hit the reset button" on ongoing cases.
To improve living conditions, Sheffield said she'd like to see the Georgia legislature strengthen tenant protections.
In her hometown of New York City, Sheffield said, "the landlord-tenant laws are heavily skewed toward the tenant.
"For a variety of reasons, New York had a reputation at one point of having slumlords," she said. "... In Georgia, the opposite is true. The laws are very, very landlord-centric and very focused on the protection of the landlord."