Some current and former tenants in the City of Waynesboro are campaigning for the local government to better regulate the owners and condition of their properties. Reports by Randi B. Hagi of the WMRA.
Shawna Cheney has seen many local rental units firsthand. She is the chief attorney for the Blue Ridge Legal Service office in Lexington and works on dozens of eviction cases in Waynesboro each year.
SHAWNA CHENEY: Waynesboro is the biggest place I practice, but my observation is that the housing stock is in worse shape…I’ve definitely been in apartments that were substandard and not safe and livable… quite serious mold problems. I have seen plumbing issues… I had a case where the ceiling came off after the tenant made several attempts to get someone to take it seriously and fix it.
Mold was a problem for Nora Scott, who rented an apartment in the Brandon Ladd complex for three years before moving back to Nelson County.
NORA SCOTT: I made several requests to have my bathroom fan fixed because of mold growing at the top of the ceiling. And the first time they sent someone, they didn’t fix it, then they left it. The second time I made a request, they came, they still haven’t fixed the problem. The third was the third or fourth time they fixed it, but it was an older fan, and that didn’t necessarily seem to help.
Scott is now a leader in the Waynesboro chapter of Virginia Organizing, advocating for greater oversight of local landlords.
SCOTT: Because of my lack of housing, or my need for housing, I was taken advantage of, and my roommates, and several others.
The apartment complex has 20 Google reviews, two of which cite mold issues. A property manager told WMRA in an email, [quote] “At this time, we respectfully decline participation and/or comment.”
Cheney said mold is a particularly difficult problem to fix because it’s outside of the home inspector’s purview, like plumbing or electrical wiring. In fact, she says in Virginia, no public entity will send an inspector to see if your mold is dangerous, even though the Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act requires landlords and tenants to take responsibility for preventing mold growth. .
Virginia organization section chief Philip Sorrells said he encountered problems with his kitchen and other aspects of the two units he rented from Park Station Villa Apartments over a two-year period. and half.
PHILIP SORRELLS: No ventilation above the stove, no fire extinguisher, no fan or air conditioning, infestation of bugs, black mold and rats…and, damn it, half the electrical outlets worked.
He has since moved to Staunton and said Waynesboro was a worse place than other localities in the area to rent. He said he asked the owner to fix the rodent and mold issues, but nothing was done.
SORRELLS: Nothing. I had to whitewash – I had to whitewash the wall.
HAGI: Oh, you had to do it yourself?
SORRELLS: Yeah…I said to Crystal, who’s the housing lady, I’m like, “Hey, I gotta get out of here. This mold is gonna kill me.
WMRA contacted Landon Davis III, an attorney with a law firm in Fredericksburg, who is the State Corporation Commission’s registered agent for Park Station Villas, LLC. We asked him to identify the owners of the apartments but he refused saying he could not provide it to us as the property changed hands on November 12 and the new owner is planning to make improvements to the property this spring.
Virginia organizing chapter leader Emily Smarte said she’d like to see the city establish a complaint line for tenants whose landlords don’t address issues, as well as a registry of landlords who would require inspections. property annuals.
EMILY SMARTE: We want to establish some sort of accountability system, where tenants have a place to go with these complaints, to report their landlord for breach of lease, to report substandard living conditions. And we want support from our local representatives to hold these landlords accountable. Because as things stand now, as I said, most tenants can’t afford to go to court with their landlord. And the owners know it, and they take advantage of it.
Attorney Shawna Cheney said there is precedent for this kind of oversight elsewhere in Virginia, but it would require the city council to pass an ordinance to set up a rent inspection program that would be housed in the office. inspection of city buildings.
CHENEY: Somebody goes every, maybe every two years, every five years, when the ownership changes hands, and they do an inspection to make sure all the systems are up to code… In the Valley , really, Roanoke is the only city that does this in a major way, and I think that really protects the tenant.
Waynesboro Mayor Bobby Henderson initially responded to an email interview request, but not subsequent emails to try to schedule one.
Instead of a rent inspection program, Cheney advised tenants who have physical issues with their units to notify their landlords in writing and make or write a dated copy for their own records. And they can contact Blue Ridge Legal Services for advice if they’re concerned their landlord hasn’t remedied the problem within a reasonable time.