Tenants at Ballantyne Gardens Apartments say they haven't had heat and are living in other poor conditions. Photo by Julie McMahon.

The unaddressed state of decay at Ballantyne Gardens Apartments, including sewage backups and an enormous amount of trash in common areas, prompted city officials this week to declare the buildings unfit for human habitation.

City code enforcement issued the unfit declaration Tuesday, ordering the ownership company to address backed up sewage in apartment building 155, and littering in all common areas and stairwells across the complex by Friday. The declaration is akin to condemning the building due to danger posed by code violations to the health and safety of residents.

Director of Code Enforcement Jake Dishaw at a Thursday press conference said city workers have begun to address the problems.

The city has also issued a stop rent order, which calls on local, state, and federal agencies providing public assistance benefits to tenants of Ballantyne to stop making rent payments to the building’s owners. Both the unfit declaration and stop rent order will remain until the five code violations cited by the city this week have been fixed. 

City officials are also not ruling out further legal action.

Dishaw said everything the city has done to try and get compliance from other landlords is on the table, including filing to institute a receivership with the state Supreme Court. A receivership – which the city has recently filed for to reign in the state of disrepair at four properties owned by now-infamous landlord Green National – would funnel all rent payments at Ballantyne toward fixing dilapidation.

“We want voluntary compliance, but when that does not happen we will do everything that we need to do to get a response,” Dishaw said. “That includes everything that we’ve done with Green National… No one deserves to live in an environment like that. We won’t tolerate it.”

Ballantyne has been under increased scrutiny by code enforcement, Dishaw said. Local housing organizers held public demonstrations outside the complex in 2021, after residents at the time complained about poor housing conditions and poor treatment from management at the time. The complex sold for $8.2 million in December of 2021, after the codes found 171 open violations at the time.

Inspectors learned late last week former management company Trinity Multifamily was no longer in charge of managing the 138-unit complex in the city’s South Side. Dishaw said the city sent Department of Public Works employees to clean and collect 14,000 lbs. of trash and debris in the common areas of the property on Tuesday. The city billed ownership $1,620.20 for services rendered. 

Dishaw said the entire building was deemed unfit due to the widespread littering throughout the complex. He compared the state of the common areas to those seen at Skyline Apartments. 

The city has not had any contact with owner Ballantyne Garden Apt Syr LLC, registered at an address in Brooklyn, since Feb. 22. 

“No one is on site. No one is in the office. No one is collecting rents on-site,” he said. “Tenants don’t know who to go to,”

In a letter to ownership, Code Enforcement Officer Josh Parkis said inspectors found blood, garbage, litter, dirt, and urine in all common areas in the complex. Parkis’ letter says that the five code violations — two of them regarding littering, and three of them regarding sewage backup — need to be addressed by March 3. If the violations are not corrected, according to the letter, the city could correct the violations and bill the owners or file court proceedings to compel the landlord to fix issues.

“Our team has been on-site trying to get in units to investigate conditions at the apartment complex,” Dishaw said. “We are discovering that some people are living in some tough situations and we’re doing everything we can to support them.”

Each inspection performed will add a flat $55 fee, plus a $20 fee per unit, to the owners’ property tax bill. Every additional inspection could cost the owners an extra $2,815 to schedule.

The onus will be on Ballantyne Gardens ownership to make an appointment for a re-inspection by codes to verify the violations have been corrected, Parkis said in the letter.

The city’s unfit designation is the latest in a series of notices code enforcement has issued to building ownership, pleading for problems to be fixed.

The city’s open data portal shows the complex has 70 open code violations as of Thursday.

The citations paint a grim picture of life at Ballantyne, accusing ownership of having faulty lighting and water heating fixtures, dysfunctional smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, vermin infestations, and ill-fitting doors and windows. 

In December, Central Current reported a building did not have heat for nearly a week. Shatris Green, one of the affected tenants, said she had reached a crossroads when the boiler in her building ceased to function. At that time, she had been dealing with mice and bedbug infestations, faulty electrical outlets, and a collapsing ceiling in her bathroom for about two years. The lack of heat seemed like the last straw. As she pondered her options, it came down to seeking shelter at the Rescue Mission or staying home.

Her apartment was deemed unfit for human habitation by the city of Syracuse Division of Code Enforcement Dec. 5. The heat was fixed about a week later, Green and Dishaw confirmed, but the other issues lingered. Having working heat in her apartment seemed like a good sign at the time, she said Thursday.

“I was convinced they were going to come and do the repairs. But my refrigerator is now on its way out and one of my doorknobs is still broken,” she said. “The windows get blown out of place if we have strong winds.”

Regarding sewage issues, Green noted she has bought and consumed bottled water for years, adding the water that comes out of the sink is often yellow or beige. There is a horrid smell of raw sewage throughout the complex and her toilet doesn’t work properly, she said.

“There’s black stuff coming up out of the sink out of the drainage in the bathroom,” Green noted.

Now, Green said she is actively looking for a new place to live. 

“I’m just trying my best to find an affordable place. It is very hard,” she said. “There is definitely an affordable housing shortage here in Syracuse. This is something I’ve never seen before and I’ve been here since 1989.”

She has lost faith in Ballantyne being a place that can be fixed.

“A receivership is not going to work. This place is too far gone,” Green said.

Got a tip, question or story idea? Contact Central Current at newsroom@centralcurrent.org.

Follow Eddie Velazquez @ezvelazquez.


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