Their building was condemned, and they’re homeless. Whose fault is it?

RICHMOND, Va. – Residents at The Flats at Ginter Park have been left in a lurch trying to relocate as the City of Richmond begins to regulate the unsafe conditions at the apartment complex; 12 buildings have been condemned, which his at least 48 apartments.

As dozens of families scrambe to find a new place to live, many question what took the city so long, and why they can’t just move into one of the other numerous buildings owned by Cedar Grove Partners LLC. The New York based company moved in to the Richmond market in late 2015 and now own 800 to 1,000 units, according to the city, and around 25 buildings.

Richmond Code Enforcement Operations Director John Walsh said there is no reason for anyone to be homeless, given the number of properties the company owns.

“I know that the owner on several occasions has stated that he has a 100-plus rent-ready units, if that’s truly the case, then there’s really no reason for anybody to be homeless, they could simply be moved around within the complex,” Walsh expressed.

On Tuesday, CBS 6 reached out to the owner, through calls, texts, and email, but received no call or message in return before publication.

Attorney Martin Wegbreit, Director of Litigation with the Central Virginia Legal Society, said that in Virginia, landlords and property owners are not legally responsible for putting tenants in a new home if their building is condemned.

“It is not like renting a car from Hertz or Avis, where one car breaks down, they have to give you another one, it is not like that at all.  You are renting this dwelling unit for this time period and there is no obligation to be rehoused if the building is condemned,” Wegbreit said.

And there is no obligation on the city either, the legal expert continued, by explaining that the city does not have to inspect an apartment before it is rented out, nor does the city have to provide housing for tenants once a building is condemned.

“The city does what it can, but the city has no affirmative duty to say we are going to provide you alternate housing on a permanent basis,” Wegbreit said.

It is all part of a much larger problem, he said.

“Most tenants in a situation where the building is condemned are not going to have an immediate remedy, that is unfortunately the problem with living in a city that has a huge affordable housing problem that is growing faster than almost anywhere else in the country.”

The city is ultimately helping some residents. The Richmond Department of Social Services uses grant money to provide housing, counseling and immediate interventions to citizens who have been displaced or are at risk of being displaced because of code enforcement activities of the city’s housing inspectors.

The program provides for emergency hotel stays if they are a 18-year-old U.S. citizen and a Richmond resident with a current lease, and were displaced due to landlord neglect. The tenant’s rent must be current, able to verify escrow accounts, and/or landlord/tenant agreement. And they must qualify as low income according to HUD.

The current available funding for this grant to serve eligible clientele is $22,000, according to the mayor’s office.

Wegbreit said tenants have to start holding landlords and property owners accountable by taking them to court, paying rent into escrow, and ultimately suing them for damages.

Weighing in on the issue of affordable housing and the problems that plague the Flats at Ginter Park, Mayor Levar Stoney’s Office released this statement:

“The city will also remain steadfast in taking on an irresponsible, out-of-town property owner of The Flats, for example. But he believes that we must also redouble our efforts in Social Services and in every way we can to meet this challenge without overwhelming our resources, to see it through and to lessen the pain born by those affected in the process.”

Walsh pointed out that they did not have the number of calls or issues one would expect for the wide-scale deterioration.

“We can’t help you if we don’t know about it,” he said. “There are protections for consumers; there are a number of other protections available.”

“I understand people worry, but quite frankly it’s hard to tell [what’s happening] inside a brick building,” Walsh added. “We need the public’s cooperation; things happen from time to time that you have to protect them.”