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Troy residents still displaced after landlords failed to comply with city regulations

Bowed exterior wall at Harbor Point Gardens
Samantha Simmons
Bowed exterior wall at Harbor Point Gardens

Residents of the Harbour Point Gardens apartments in Troy are still living in motels more than two weeks after being evacuated over safety concerns. Several spoke before the Troy City Council Thursday evening, as officials prepare to take legal action against the property owner.  

When Harbor Point Gardens residents were evacuated with no prior notice on June 22nd, they were told by property management they’d be back in their apartments early the following week. But they’re still out of their homes, living with family or friends or at nearby motels provided by management.

Several residents shared their frustrations with the Troy City Council Thursday night. Marcos Argueta Guevara moved in less than a month before he was forced out of his apartment.

“None of the stories, none of the details have been consistent,” Argueta Guevara said. “One day we hear one story, a different tenant hears a different story, nothing is lining up. And it's just extremely frustrating to not know when we're going to go back home, if we're going to go back home.”

Guevara says he is being asked to pay two months’ rent for an apartment he lived in for two weeks.

“I feel it's unfair for me to have to pay rent,” Argueta Guevara said. “Not to mention, I paid my deposit in full for June. And yet, they're not talking about any sort of reparations. They're not talking about anything. All they want us for us to pay rent.”

For the last several days, 182 Delaware LLC has been working with contractors to repair issues cited by the city – including loose bricks and water-damaged walls.

Evarist Nicholas, a 70-year-old resident with several health problems, told the council meals being provided to the residents since the evacuation are inadequate.

“Here's the ramen noodles, of which I have three packages,” Nicholas said, “Here is Ruffles of which I got three packages. And here is the last bottle of water. So that's four bottles of water. And I've been out of my home for 16 days today. So, this is my three meals right here, I guess.”

Nicholas says while construction crews were taking down an exterior brick wall, her bedroom wall was damaged, leaving her room exposed to heavy rain.

“They're supposed to be working on bricks, which is outside of the building,” Nicholas said. “How did they get to my bedroom on the inside with the sledgehammers that they were using?”

City Council President and Republican mayoral candidate Carmella Mantello said she was in frequent contact with the property manager, Michael Evangelista, until about a week ago. She said photos taken the construction at the complex over the weekend left her shocked.

“I sent them to the mayor, the deputy mayor, it looked like a warzone,” Mantello said. “And yes, I've been on construction sites. This was holes in people's walls, and even beyond the pictures we saw tonight.”

Thursday’s meeting marked a swift change from a week earlier, when the city and landlord jointly announced a plan to move forward.

Mayor Patrick Madden’s administration released photos and finding from a city field report on Friday, saying code enforcement found the buildings unfit for occupancy, with gaping holes in walls, damaged electrical, broken windows and inaccessible emergency exits.

Many residents say they have received no communication from the landlord, only from the office secretary who has apologized but has been unable to provide any information.

Officials are asking residents to call a hotline to get on a contact list for updates.

Mantello said the city council is issuing subpoenas for information.

“We're going to move forward, I'm going to sit down with the Corporation Council tomorrow, put a path forward in terms of the next week, get the property owner in here,” Mantello said. “He will be subpoenaed. They will be subpoenaed. And we will get answers for the tenants. And these tenants they deserve more than this, these residents. It's unacceptable. And we just can't tolerate this.”

Regional Property Manager Rob Howard could not be reached for comment on Friday, but a statement from the company said QUOTE “We continue to work diligently with the cooperation and approval of the city to get the work done on this property to enable this goal.” UNQUOTE.

But while the city is directing complaints to the property owner, some residents want to know why the complex was abruptly ordered to evacuated over a month after an initial city inspection on May 9.

Mayor Madden, a Democrat, says code enforcement provides 30 days for repairs if they are not health and safety related.

He said it wasn’t until June that inspections revealed that the bowing brick walls were a safety concern. On the subsequent inspections, Madden says he grew concerned – leading to the city’s hiring of an engineer.

“We were quite concerned about the disruption that this would cause,” Madden said. “But as a public official, you can't listen, you can't look at an engineering report that says there's health and safety danger here, you've got to get people out of here. You can't ignore that. So, we had to do that. And it was a tough call. And I know it caused people a lot of pain. But it was the right thing to do. And I would I would do that again. We expected a little bit better cooperation from the owner, they went long periods of time without communication with us. They told stories to their tenants that were not accurate.”

Mantello, who is running to succeed Madden, said the mayor’s words are not enough.

“If the mayor and the administration isn't gonna do it, we will,” Mantello said. “I mean, if we have to pass a resolution, whatever we have to do, we're going to do from a legislative end.”

This follows an inspection called for by the property owner on Monday. According to Deputy Mayor Chris Nolin, code enforcement saw the work had yet to be completed outside and called off a full inspection saying work that agreed upon by LaBella Associates and WestShore Design Engineers had not yet been completed.

“We need a building permit, we need a timeline, we need your plan, and thus far we don't have it,” Nolin said. “I expressed our displeasure for being called up to do an inspection today for apartments that were obviously not ready to be inspected.”

The city has provided the landlord with a plan of action for more than 30 violations that need to be fixed.

Residents are being encouraged to keep track of expenses while displaced and to speak with a legal counselor as the situation will likely end up in court.

Reporting from Troy, I’m Samantha Simmons for WAMC News.

Samantha joined the WAMC staff after interning during her final semester at the University at Albany. A Troy native, she looks forward to covering what matters most to those in her community. Aside from working, Samantha enjoys spending time with her friends, family, and cat. She can be reached by phone at (518)-465-5233 Ext. 211 or by email at ssimmons@wamc.org.
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