RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Residents of a north Richmond apartment building are speaking out after what they say has been years of neglect by an absentee landlord.
On an overcast day in November, Brianna Baird stepped out of her unit on the ground floor of the Red Oak Apartments on Chamberlain Avenue. A few feet away, a mop sat leaning against its trash-wrapped wall-mounted AC unit, crooked since it was hit by another resident’s car two years ago.
The unit still works, but, Baird said, “if I turn it on, it trips the circuit for the rest of the apartment.”
No one from management came out to repair the unit, and Baird says he had to focus on bigger problems with the apartment. Another resident, Mario, had his AC go out earlier this year.
“I had to go through the entire summer without AC,” he said. Eventually, like Baird, he gave up waiting for the landlord’s response, and took matters into his own hands, using YouTube tutorials to restore it to semi-working order.
Baird told 8 News that part of the problem is that it’s not clear who should actually be responsible for fixing these things. She said since she moved, management has changed several times, and since the COVID pandemic began, the rental office has only been open intermittently.
There is a phone line to the office, but, according to Baird, “it would just click and hang up.”
8News attempted to contact Red Oaks Apartments through the phone number listed on its website. After navigating an automated menu with no option to speak to someone at the company’s rental office, we left a message requesting comment on this story. This request was not returned prior to publication.
Red Oaks is now owned by Ginter Park LLC, a company that owns dozens of apartment buildings along Chamberlayne Avenue. They bought Red Oaks, along with many of their other properties, from the Zacharias brothers — a local family that has faced its own protests — in July 2020 for more than $10 million.
According to Virginia corporate records, Ginter Park LLC is registered to a suburban Lakewood, New Jersey home belonging to Borch Fogel.
The problems in the building go beyond broken AC units. The building has a record of city code violations, most recently the broken brick facade of an apartment building.
A city inspector wrote on Nov. 7, 2022 that “I have received complaints from tenants that the bricks under the second floor railing are broken and falling off and the stair treads show signs of cracking.” He later found the building was in violation of city code. For “defective maintenance”.
Baird told 8News she had to send her daughter, who has a serious, chronic illness, to a hospital in Norfolk at her own expense because the leasing office delayed fixing a leak in her roof. Doctors told Baird they couldn’t let her daughter live in the apartment, which was at risk of rupture because of the leak.
Another apartment just a few doors away has been vacant since the tenant moved out five months ago. When 8News saw it, the door was open and the front room was full of trash. The heat was sweltering and the empty apartment was dreary, which Baird said had been the case for months.
“It’s a great source of bugs and rats,” Baird said, pointing to the empty apartment. “They don’t care about this apartment or anyone here.”
Baird said there was one person who watched over the apartment building’s residents over the years: a maintenance worker named Hassan Dixon, Sr.
“He was the only man who gave a damn about us here,” he said.
But in 2021, Dixon, known to his family as a “gentle giant,” was killed in an apparently random shooting.
As Baird struggles to cover her daughter’s medical expenses, she said she is open to pandemic rent relief to help meet her needs. He filled out his paperwork, and officials confirmed he had been accepted — but there was no update.
She hung up for months before a housing official finally told her that the landlord had never submitted half of the paperwork.
Mario also applied for the program, and said half of his applications had been approved as of August 19. But when he reached out to the building’s management to ask when he would deposit his half, he never got a response.
“It shouldn’t be difficult to contact these people,” he said. “I never got an answer, so I never got the rent relief program.”
8 News reached out to Red Oaks Apartments for comment, but did not receive a response prior to publication.