AUSTIN (KXAN) - Some renters at an affordable housing unit in South Austin are making strong complaints tonight against their landlord.
One renter claims her air conditioning was intentionally shut off. Others claim there is a rodent problem. And they say the complaints are being ignored by the property managers.
Calls the the Tipline prompted KXAN to go to the Residences at Onion Creek Apartments at 810 E. Slaughter Lane in South Austin. It is a tax-credit, affordable housing apartment complex financed through the federal tax-credit program.
Some of the complaints we heard involved mold, maggots, mice and trash. The renters we spoke with said their complaints were ignored for months by the property managers.
"My master bedroom was completely flooded with water, and mold was growing inside the bathroom as well as in the bedroom," said resident Danielle Bevan.
Added her husband, Joshua: "The outlet in the dining room is actually arching electricity."
The Bevan's have a 2-year-old son, and Josh said that when he could actually see sparks coming out of the dining room outlet he was worried and repeatedly called the property managers for weeks.
Another claim came from a former manager of the complex. Stacey Conley said that another manager "physically walked into (a resident's apartment) and turned off his AC when it's 110 degrees outside."
Conley said she was fired June 21 after just 10 weeks on the job. She is now facing eviction. She said the Residences at Onion Creek have gone through several managers in the past year.
Numerous calls for response to both the apartment complex and the company that owns it, Georgia-based NuRock, went unreturned. One call that was answered ended when a representative for the apartments hung up before addressing questions.
Renters said they took photos to document their complaints of mold, maggots, mice holes, rodent droppings and piled-up trash and called the office several times to let managers know of their complaints. They sent those pictures to KXAN.
Another renter, who did not want her identity disclosed, said it got unbearable when she had a newborn baby and no air conditioning.
"He seemed like he was running a fever," she said. "But he was just hot and he was miserable.
"He was sweating. He was crying. I was sweating. I was miserable."
After staying with her parents, the renter finally checked into a hotel with her baby and came back to the office a few weeks later to see if the air conditioning was fixed.
But it was close to 5 p.m. and, she said the managers did not like it, telling her "you need to get out of the office or we'll call the police."
Another example, residents said, is evident at one of the buildings that runs parallel to Slaughter Lane.
It was more than a month ago that a truck lost control and crashed through a fence, slamming into the outside of an apartment with the family inside. More than a month later, KXAN took cameras back to the spot where the accident happened, and no repairs had been done.
The family was still living inside. Marc Sustaita lives in that apartment with his wife and five daughters.
"They even asked my wife to call our renters insurance to take care of that, which is rather ridiculous," he said.
However, the day after KXAN cameras were there recording the damage, repairs began.
The Texas Tenant Advisor, www.texastenant.org/repairs, is an online resource that tells renters to notify their landlord in writing when there's a problem. In cases where a repair is needed, the renter should expect to wait a reasonable amount of time for that repair to be addressed, which is usually about one week.
None of the renters at The Residences at Onion Creek interviewed for this report had documented their problems in writing. Instead, in each case, the renters called the complex management office and verbally registered their complaint with the understanding the office was writing up a work order.
ANuRock was financed to build the Residences at Onion Creek through investors in the Federal Tax-Credit Program. That means it was paid for by investors, who financed construction in exchange for tax-credits.
It is considered a highly successful program all across Texas. Tim Irvine, the director of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, said the statewide the program is "incredibly successful, probably the most successful affordable housing program on the planet."
The TDHCA oversees the tax-credit housing program in Texas. There are approximately 100 properties and more than 15,000 units in Central Texas alone.
Irvine said he could not comment specifically about the Residences at Onion Creek because his enforcement team had not seen the renters' claims. But, he added, allegations like these are rare in the tax-credit program.
"We do have enforcement tools that we do use, we have used them on limited occasions" he said, "We always go through an informal process first to try to sort things out but sometimes it is a situation where somebody just proves that they either
can't comply or they won't comply."
Because the Residences at Onion Creek is a tax-credit affordable housing complex, there are income qualifications and guidelines they must follow. Tenants whose incomes are too high cannot live there.
But some renters claim there are ways around that too. To qualify to live there, potential tenants' salaries cannot exceed a redetermined income-level. But that income level goes up when the number of people living in an apartment goes up. KXAN's investigation found that the number of people listed on a lease does not always match the number of people actually living in the apartment.
Danielle Bevan showed us the lease from January 2010 when she first moved in. Through a Power of Attorney, she also signed her husband's name.
He was in the military serving in Afghanistan, but was coming home to be with his wife in a few weeks. Her name is on the lease, and so is her husband's and their son.
But two other people are also listed on the lease as residents of the apartment. People who have never lived in the apartment.
"They told me, `well, you make too much money.' And I had my sister-in-law and brother-in-law with me. And they said, 'well, you can just add your sister-in-law and her baby and then you can get an apartment here,'" Danielle Bevan said.
And, Danielle's sister-in-law, Keely, is listed on the lease, and so is her baby. Danielle and Josh are both military Veterans, and while Josh was still overseas when Danielle signed the lease, he knows who lives there, and who doesn't.
KXAN asked how many people do the property managers say live in this apartment? He answered, "Five."
But when the question was asked, "And how many people live here?" He answered, "Three."
Since signing the original lease, both Josh and Danielle have left the military and say they are now looking for work. So, under the guidelines, they do qualify and meet the income requirement. Still, the names of Danielle's sister-in-law and baby, remain on their current lease.
That caught the eye of Travis County Civil Court Judge Elena Diaz.
"There's initials on that, there's initials on that, the third file looks like yours, no initials" she said during a recent eviction trial involving the Residences at Onion Creek. Judge Diaz also pointed-out discrepancies on other leases, telling representatives from the Residences at Onion Creek in court, "There is somebody that is switching-out the first page of the rental agreements when they want to."
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