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Inspectors cite Waterman's Crossing Apartments, again

Elijah Johnson shows a large hole in his bathroom ceiling at Waterman’s Crossing Apartments.  He says it has been like this for more than two years. “They don’t like to fix anything,” another tenant says.

GEN YAMAGUCHI | Times

Elijah Johnson shows a large hole in his bathroom ceiling at Waterman’s Crossing Apartments. He says it has been like this for more than two years. “They don’t like to fix anything,” another tenant says.

TAMPA — The pool at Waterman's Crossing Apartments is refreshingly clear and blue. It's the rest of the 403-unit complex that has city officials swarming.

Fire alarms in five of the 23 buildings don't work. Smoke detectors in most apartments don't either. Mold is so bad in two dwellings, investigators on Thursday ordered tenants in two units move into safer digs.

"They don't like to fix anything," said Renika Jones, 26, who has lived there with her ailing mother for five or six years.

Tampa code enforcement and fire inspectors surveyed and cited the 35-year-old development at N Rome Avenue just north of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Three days earlier, residents there tried to alert neighbors about a 9 a.m. fire in the complex, but one fire alarm pull after another didn't work, Tampa fire Capt. Bill Wade said.

Since then, management was forced to hire two off-duty fire inspectors to conduct 13-hour patrols at the complex — a human fire watch until the detectors are repaired.

This is not the first time the city has had to address problems.

Inspectors have cited Waterman's Crossing management for 101 violations since 2004.

"It's always been major stuff," said Larry Canalejo, a code enforcement district supervisor.

Ceilings cave in. Elevators don't work. Wooden balcony railings are missing throughout the multistory complex, with plywood sheets hammered up to fill some of the gaps. Major plumbing problems plague residents. Water runs down the inside hallway walls when it rains.

Canalejo gets more complaints from Waterman's Crossing, he said, than any other property in his district: "We just keep citing, and hopefully they comply."

Even problems with the fire alarms aren't new. According to records Wade pulled, fire inspectors were on the property six times in 2007. That April, they ordered a similar human fire watch due to bad alarms. By May 11, an inspector reported they were all working and the fire watch order was lifted.

What happened between then and now is unclear. Inspectors found some of the alarm wires disconnected. "Some of it is vandalism," Wade said. "Some of it is lack of maintenance. Whatever the case, the property manager is required to maintain them."

A woman who traversed the complex on a golf cart Thursday described herself to the Times as a leasing manager, but refused to give her name.

"I have other issues on my hands," she said, and referred further questions to Henry S. Miller Management Group.

No one at the Dallas-based company nor AHF Bay Fund, who property records show own the complex, returned phone messages left by the Times.

Back at the complex, Miguel Warren, 20, pointed to a ring around the light in his hallway. He can't put a bulb in the fixture because of water damage there.

Then he pointed to the tub where his 2-year-old daughter bathes below a hole in the bathroom ceiling. White paint inside the tub flakes off in her bathwater. "They painted the tub," he said.

Wade said he was overwhelmed by the moldy stench of one vacant apartment he viewed. "I saw standing water, a half inch to an inch deep and mold growing up the wall from where a pipe leaked," he said.

It got bad enough for former tenant Bonnie Wheaton last year that she filed a lawsuit against the apartments seeking almost $10,000 for personal property destroyed when a burst water pipe caused a flood. Wheaton's attorney, Jeff Chambers, said Thursday that the court issued a default judgment against AHF Fund, requiring the management company to pay.

What happens now is a waiting game. Officials expect management to make repairs. If they don't, there will be fines.

But Jones, the longtime tenant — who said she has battled management over air conditioning repairs, leaks and wobbly bannisters — said she's not sure the fixes will stick: "The only thing they do is cover it up."

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.

Inspectors cite Waterman's Crossing Apartments, again 09/11/08 [Last modified: Friday, September 12, 2008 5:40pm]
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