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City works to address issues at Legacy, owner evicts tenants

The Legacy Apartments will be vacated by Friday, December 14, due to code violations.

Erik Rejino, city manager, said the owner made the decision to evict tenants and avoid the case going before the housing standards commission.

The owner of the apartment complex, Charyle D. Santa Ana, of San Francisco, California, did not return the News-Press’ request for comment.

Rejino said tenants have until December 14 to vacate the property and the building will be boarded up until repairs can be made.

“She [Santa Ana] voluntarily agreed to give her tenants 30 days to vacate, then board it up and proceed down the path to make it habitable again,” Rejino said. “She did that in lieu of us [the City of Levelland] going to the housing standards commission….There’s a lot of issues that need to be addressed if people are going to live there.

“She has already issued that [eviction] notice and gave them 30 days, or until December 14, to vacate,” Rejino said.

The process to address building issues at the apartment complex began when the City of Levelland received a complaint in April regarding blocked fire exits and other fire code violations.

Jay McKay, Levelland Fire Marshal, along with John Agnew, the chief building official for the City of Levelland, conducted an inspection and identified a range of issues with the building.

McKay said the problems included fire code and electrical violations along with some issues regarding the structural integrity of the building.

At that time, McKay said he and Agnew were only allowed to inspect the common areas of the complex and weren’t allowed to actually go into any occupied or unoccupied units.

In September, the city received an additional complaint regarding blocked fire exits and other violations. McKay said he returned to the building to do a follow-up inspection and learned the original violations had not been corrected.

“Those issues were not fixed and have not been fixed, yet,” McKay said.

At that time, the owner was given 30 days to come into compliance and fix the list of issues identified.

On October 19, around 1 a.m. in the morning, the Levelland Fire Department responded to the complex in regards to an apartment fire.

The Levelland Police Department assisted in evacuating tenants from the building and even more issues were discovered that could have been life-threatening had the fire been worse or not been detected early.

“The main problem was that people only had one way out of their apartments,” McKay said. “Some couldn’t get out because of how much smoke had accumulated in the hallways.”

McKay said windows in some units had been boarded up and people couldn’t even exit through there. The only way out was through the one hallway.

Though, the hallway has two exits, McKay said had a fire or flames been directly outside of an apartment without an available window, fatalities or serious injury could have occurred.

“Without the early detection, there could have been fatalities,” McKay said. “People who couldn’t have gotten out other than the hallway, they could have been in serious danger. If the fire had been right at one of the apartment doorways, and those people didn’t have another way to exit other than going through the fire, that’s where some major issues could have come in.”

Rejino said the city has made every effort to provide resources for tenants who may need assistance finding a new place to live.

On Monday, Rejino said several local organizations, including South Plains Community Action Association, the Ministerial Alliance, the Salvation Army, Hockley County Public Assistance, among others, will be at the apartment complex to provide whatever resources they can.

“They’ll be out there beginning around 9 a.m. and until whenever they feel like they have done whatever they can do,” Rejino said.

Henry Tarango, housing and community services director at SPCAA, said there are only nine families or units that are still being occupied at the apartment complex.

Of those who are left, Tarango said most are elderly, disabled and on a fixed income.

“We are going to have two case workers at the complex Monday taking applications for Section A Housing Assistance,” Tarango said.

From there, he said SPCAA will expedite those applications to get tenants a housing voucher as soon as possible.

“Then they can find a place on their own to live, within our service area,” Tarango said.

They will also be taking applications for those who will need help with deposits on utilities and other needs.

“We will also be able to assist them in that manner,” Tarango said.

Additionally, for those who wish to not seek out the housing vouchers, Tarango said case workers will inform residents of the SPARTAN routes to Lubbock to the Salvation Army.

“They are willing to take them until they can find a place to live,” Tarango said.

Bill Powell, CEO and executive director at SPCAA, said they are involved and willing to help those who are being displaced at Legacy Apartments because that’s “what they do.”

“Our business is helping people, particularly low-income people,” Powell said. “If they’re on fixed incomes, life’s not easy.”

Tarango said they will also provide referrals to other services as needed, such as food and medical services.

Rejino said the city has tried its best to provide alternative routes to housing and assistance for the tenants at the Legacy Apartments.

“In my mind, we have gone above and beyond and tried to help remedy any potential results of the substandard building,” Rejino said. “Our stance is public health and safety is always first. We do not feel it is a safe structure to continue to inhabit under the current circumstances.”

The city has made strides to address substandard building structures throughout town. At a November city council meeting, Rejino highlighted ways the city has followed its strategic plan since October 2017.

Rejino said the city’s Code Enforcement Department has facilitated the board up of 20 structures in partnership with the Levelland Police Department. They have also completed 13 demolitions of substandard structures.

Rejino said this effort falls under the city’s desire to focus on  improving and enhancing the community’s appearance.

Deanna Womack, code enforcement officer for the City of Levelland, reiterated it’s not so much about the appearance but about the safety of the community.

“First and foremost, it’s about the health and public safety of the community,” Womack said.

Womack said after she, along with John Agnew, the chief building inspector, and McKay, fire marshal, did a walk through at the building in April, there were many issues that needed to be addressed for the safety of people who lived there.

“I hate it personally that people will be displaced, but I’d rather that than another fire start and them not be able to get out,” Womack said. “Some of the things wrong with the building are absolute safety issues.”

Womack said she hopes the city’s initiative to address substandard structures encourages other homeowners to address the needs of houses and residences they own.

“If we clean up a substandard house and get it to where people can live in it again, we hope it encourages others to follow suit,” Womack said.

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