Residents want property owner held accountable over poor living conditions: ‘They should be arrested’

RICHMOND, Va. -- Just minutes after Cheryl Brown sat down with CBS 6 to talk about the problems at her apartment complex, she was taken away in an ambulance.

Brown said for the fourth time she passed out due to stress related to what she alleges are deplorable living conditions at The Flats at Ginter Park.

"I literally fell over and started drooling and turning purple," Brown said about one of the previous times she passed out.

Cheryl Brown

Brown has someone else's heart pumping inside her body because she had a heart transplant.

And she said it has weighed heavy since the City of Richmond condemned her apartment back in January after her ceiling collapsed.

For more than a year, the CBS 6 Problem Solvers have shown viewers certain apartments in disrepair at The Flats.

Residents told us about a lack of running water and heat and mold issues.

And recently, the city had to vacate the Chateau de Ville apartments after the water stopped working and CO2 leaked into several apartments because of improperly installed water heaters.

Cheryl Brown

Both the Chateau and the Flats, as well as The Park at Forest, are owned by the same entities.

Since CBS 6 started investigating more than a year ago, the city has hit those three properties with more than 150 code violations.

"Oh gosh, we've got a bunch, mostly for unsafe and unfit structures," John Walsh, Richmond's operations manager for code enforcement, said.

But residents say the problems persist, and we wanted to know if the owner being held accountable.

"We have been unsuccessful in getting the actual owner in court, and that's really where we need to go next, we need to get the owner in court," Walsh said.

He said that tracking down the owner was tough.

The Flats

"Dealing with the fact that you have an out of state owner and dealing with the fact that there is not anybody here that we can actually put our hands on so to speak has been a little challenging," Walsh said.

Attorney Chip Nunley with Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP represents several residents from The Flats pro bono.

"At this point we've been pretty stymied in trying to get to a decision maker to be able to say, are you going to do things down here to improve the conditions of these apartments?" Nunley said.  "We wish someone would come forward to talk to us, but somehow they haven't."

Nunley said unpacking who owns the apartments, or invests in them, is difficult because the owners created various LLCs, or limited liability corporations, and incorporated them in Delaware.

"Some people will say that people like to go to Delaware and incorporate there because Delaware has some of the most stringent protections in terms of trying to find out who owns an LLC," Nunley said.

He points to a recent New York Times article about how LLCs shield property owners from personal liability while hiding their identity.

"Now, I don't know if that is what has happened here or not, but the end result is you can't find out who owns the property," Nunley said.

In the case of the Flats, Walsh says the city did ultimately track down the managing partner.

His name is Aaron Gorin.

CBS 6 called, texted and emailed him, but have not heard back.

We researched him online and found he is a former venture capitalist who is now a senior analyst at a healthcare capital markets firm.

Aaron Gorin

Gorin lives and works in New York, but Walsh said he did travel to Richmond back in November to meet with the City of Richmond.

"He said all the right things and appeared to want to do all the right things and left and has appeared to do very little since," Walsh said.

Gorin has now been issued a summons to show up in Richmond court on July 17 for having an unlawful structure, and Cheryl Brown said she hopes he shows up because she wants him held accountable.

"I would tell them they were a piece of crap, and they should be arrested, and they should feel the pain that everybody here at the ‘The Flats’ is going through," Brown said.

The issues at these properties are not only impacting hundreds of residents, they're also tying up limited city resources.

For example, whenever an apartment is condemned the Department of Social Services is called in to try to help the tenants find new housing.

And, code enforcement spends a lot of time on the issues as well.

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