Complaints about soiled carpets and dead bugs led code enforcement officials to discover rusty metal steps needing repair and balcony decks with rotting boards and damaged railing while inspecting three student housing complexes on Monday.
Greenville Code Enforcement Supervisor Carlton Dawson said his office received more than a dozen complaints from East Carolina University students and their parents about apartments at Copper Beech, located off East 10th Street at 2001 Copper Beech Way; 33 East at 3305 E. 10th St.; and Paramount 3800, at 3800 Bostic Drive, this weekend.
All but two of the complaints involved Copper Beech, Dawson said.
It’s unusual for his office to receive so many complaints as students are moving into their apartments.
“Most (complaints) come when the tenant has moved in and we’ll get a call or two about a light fixture not working or something the owner didn’t know about,” said Dawson, who has worked nearly 28 years in code enforcement. “Not when they are moving and the place is just trashed like this.”
Dawson and three other code enforcement officers spent Monday inspecting the apartment complexes. Along with the problems involving the steps and balconies, they also discovered kitchen vinyl flooring in disrepair, soiled carpet and carpet with severe wear and holes, water damage to walls and ceilings, inoperable smoke detectors, a broken bathroom sink drain with water draining onto the floor, and loose toilets.
Dawson said there also were “major trash problems” with overfilled dumpsters and trash scattered around parking areas.
Dawson said the trash is a public nuisance and could create problems if wind blew it into storm drains and retention ponds.
“We talked with property managers for voluntary compliance and are preparing notice of violation letters per the requirements of the minimum housing code ordinance,” Dawson said. “We gave a 24-hour notice concerning the trash problems and have coordinated getting the dumpsters emptied by (Greenville) Public Works.”
The enforcement officers will be inspecting the sites today and will continue inspections until the repairs are made.
If voluntary repairs aren’t completed, Dawson said, citations will be issued and a hearing will take place.
“In talking with them, they said it was dealing with schedules and ECU changing the date of kids coming back to school. That seemed to be the one excuse Copper Beech was using,” Dawson said.
“They said they weren’t kept in the loop. I said, ‘That’s all you guys rent to mostly, ECU students,’” Dawson said. “I don’t understand how you weren’t kept in the loop or didn’t see it in the news or follow up with East Carolina. That wasn’t acceptable as far as our action goes.”
ECU announced in May it was moving up its start date by two weeks.
An employee at Copper Beech said the management team was not commenting on the complaints.
Camile Leake, a sophomore from Kernersville who is studying social work, shined a light on the problems at Copper Beech when she posted a video on Saturday of the dirty apartment she and her boyfriend, Jonte Johnson, were assigned.
The video shows dead bugs scattered through the two-story unit. Mold covered the bottom of a dishwasher, the stove top was dirty, there were water spots on the walls and stains and dirt on the carpeting.
“The first thing I noticed was the discoloration on the floor and then the two dead cockroaches,” Leake said. “The first thing I knew what I had to do was to get my phone out and record.” She didn’t want to be blamed for the dirt.
Leake and Johnson arrived at the apartment shortly before 8 a.m. When Leake went to the management office there were already four people there with complaints about damage in their units.
A management representative said the problems were related to Hurricane Isaias delaying carpet cleaners and carpet installers, Leake said.
Management offered to move Leake and Johnson to another unit but the person living there was allergic to dogs.
Leake has an emotional support dog, a golden retriever named Louie, that she got after her mother died, and she didn’t want to impose on the other tenant.
Leake and Johnson spent Saturday night in a local motel.
They tried to locate another apartment but were turned down because they already had a lease with Copper Beech or the location didn’t allow pets.
Cooper Beech’s management wouldn’t release the couple from their lease, saying management had 30 days to make repairs.
Without a place to stay, the couple returned to their respective homes in Kernersville on Sunday.
ECU classes started Monday under a new block scheduling format where the semester is divided into two eight-week blocks instead of the traditional 15-week semester.
Leake said she is fortunate because all her first block classes are online, so she will be able to work from Kernersville.
However, Johnson has an anatomy and physiology class that involves an in-person lab.
On Monday he was waiting to hear from his adviser on whether he needed to drop the class and take it at a later time or if he can make up for the class he missed Monday.
Johnson is a transfer student and passing the anatomy and physiology lab will allow him to earn his associate’s degree in exercise physiology.
Savannah Bridgers, a junior studying exercise physiology, lived at Cooper Beech last year and had no problems with the unit she shared with friends because it was in a newer building.
When she signed a new lease she was moved into a new unit with her brother.
Management called the family Friday night and said that the carpeting wouldn’t be replaced until Sunday.
When they arrived, they discovered more problems than dingy carpeting, which had not been replaced.
“My entire back deck is completely covered in mold. There’s bugs, there’s ants inside the house, everywhere,” she said.
The units are supposed to be fully furnished but the two mattresses were stained and so old that the springs were coming out. Bridgers had to buy a new bed and new bed frame.
Bridgers said the family cleaned the unit the best they could, but it’s still not where she wants to live.
“I have nowhere else to stay at the moment and my classes started (Monday). I didn’t really have the option to up and go somewhere else,” Bridgers said. “My mom is trying to figure out if we are going to continue living there or what actions are taken by Copper Beech this week.”
Because off-campus housing involves contracts between apartment complexes and students and their families, ECU can do little for the students, spokeswoman Jamie Smith said.
“ECU is offering help to affected students through our Office of Off Campus Student Services,” she said. “We also have limited housing available on campus if students need temporary or permanent housing for the fall semester or full academic year.”
ECU Student Legal Services does not represent students in conflicts with their landlords, attorney Mark Stewart said, but the office will make referrals to attorneys specializing in property law.