When Shatris Green goes to sleep, a sense of danger lingers in the back of her mind. The heat has not worked properly for weeks at her Ballantyne Gardens apartment, Green said.
For some residents at the complex off South Salina Street, that means using the oven, running a hot shower, setting up space heaters, or in Green’s case, boiling pots of water to remedy the frigid state of her home. Central Current spoke with three current residents in the last week who said they did not have heat in their apartments.
“I close my eyes to go to sleep and about every two or three hours I’m jumping up because I know this is a fire hazard,” Green said on the phone, her teeth chattering. “All it takes is one mistake. Everybody here is in danger right now.”
Green reported the lack of heat to the city’s Division of Code Enforcement in early December. Last week, she received a letter from codes dated Dec. 5, directing her to vacate her apartment, and notifying her that the apartment had been deemed unfit for human occupancy due to the lack of heating.
Code officials discovered the following violations throughout the complex during their most recent inspection on file on Dec. 5:
- Structure unfit for human occupancy: Describes a structure that is unsafe or unlawful. It could also mean that because of the degree to which the structure is in disrepair or lacks maintenance it is unsanitary, vermin infested, or lacks ventilation, or sanitary and heating facilities.
- Infestation: Calls for pests to be exterminated in ways that are safe for human health, as well as instituting proper precautions to prevent reinfestation.
- Interior surfaces: This covers windows and doors, which are to be maintained in sanitary and good conditions. It calls for the remediation of peeling or chipping paint.
The “structure unfit for human occupancy” violation was found at Green’s apartment, open data records show.
“Green’s apartment was cited because there was no heat in one bedroom,” said Senior Public Information Officer Brooke Schneider. “Ballantyne management hired an HVAC company and they found that the heating issue was caused by items being stuffed down a vent.”
Green said she is unaware of items in the vent and noted Monday she has not received any visits from any repair technicians.
Codes records show inspectors marked the violation in Green’s apartment as addressed. Green says she fears their report may complicate finding assistance from government and nonprofit programs.
She remains in her apartment despite the lack of heating.
City of Syracuse Codes Enforcement working with Ballantyne on repairs
Code officers reported a boiler in one of the buildings in the complex malfunctioned, leading to parts of the structure having no heat. City officials did not say how many tenants were affected. As of Wednesday, codes continue to monitor conditions at the complex, said Schneider, the city spokeswoman. Property management did not respond to three requests for comment over the last week.
“The property management brought in a professional heating and ventilation repair company to work on the system,” she said, adding the heating company was able to make a temporary repair on Dec. 13.
A part for the boiler repairs that had been backordered, Schneider said, was expected to arrive Wednesday.
“All units are receiving heat, but some are experiencing reduced heat,” she said.
Management is providing space heaters to supplement heat in any unit impacted by boiler repairs, Schneider said.
Green, as well as Ashley Ayala, a tenant who said she has not had heat for two weeks, said they had not heard of management providing space heaters to tenants.
The last service request on the city’s website regarding a lack of heating came on Monday. An inspection is scheduled for Friday, records show.
Schneider said Wednesday the city has not received new complaints about a lack of heating since.
Other reports have been filed after Green called the division of code enforcement, according to the city’s service request portal. The site logged two calls on Dec. 16 and Dec. 20 from a tenant reporting not having any heat. An inspection, according to the website, is scheduled for Dec. 23.
Ayala’s apartment appears on the city’s service request portal for reports of no heat in her children’s bedroom. The portal shows the apartment failed the inspection on Dec. 1 and will be reinspected Dec. 23. She has lived there for two years.
“My kids are getting sick because it is freezing here,” Ayala said.
New owner of apartment complex inherits dozens of code violations
Joredan Walker, who has lived at Ballantyne Gardens since 2019, said she noticed the lack of heat last week.
“It was so cold you could see your breath,” Walker said. “I had to go in the bathroom and turn the shower on because it was so cold. I just don’t know how to keep dealing with this.”
Tenants’ heating issues are the latest denunciation of what they claim are poor housing conditions inside Ballantyne. The housing complex became the subject of concentrated public scrutiny last summer, when tenants and housing advocates protested in the apartments’ courtyard, demanding an end to what they described as negligence from management.
Currently, the complex has 57 open code violations with the Syracuse Division of Code Enforcement, with some dating back to October 2020, according to the city’s open data portal.
A vast majority of the violations were found late last year when codes inspected the place as part of its certificate of compliance program, which is a requirement for all occupied mixed use or multiple occupancy properties. The program is meant to ensure said properties are safe, healthy, and up to code. The certificate must be renewed every three years.
Despite the large number of open violations, Schneider said codes have noted consistent work going on at the property for months. She said codes officials attribute those changes to new ownership, who hired property management company, Trinity Multifamily, to oversee the property.
The complex was sold on Dec. 30 last year to “Ballantyne Garden Apt. Syr.,”, an LLC registered in Brooklyn for $6.4 million. The former owner, Benjamin Marks, had owned the complex since 2009 through “Resid Equity Hold of NY LLC.”
Schenider said Marks did not correct any of the violations found prior to the sale, during the certificate of compliance inspection in November last year.
“Codes was getting ready to take action against the former owner, but they sold the property before a lawsuit began, at which point violations became the new owners’ responsibility,” she said. “After a sale, codes then must re-cite all of the violations with new comply dates.”
Long-standing issues for tenants at Ballantyne Gardens
Tenants’ complaints about the complex extend beyond issues with heating.
Both Green and Walker spoke about the general state of disrepair a lot of tenants face both in the buildings and in their apartments, as well as disinterest from management in fixing things. Issues brought up to include severe plumbing issues, unfit fixtures like toilets and bathtubs, and harrowing bedbug, cockroach, and rodent infestations, Ayala, Green, and Walker said.
Walker said she noticed a litany of issues pop up during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.
“Management stopped cleaning the halls. They didn’t replace the lights that were broken in the halls,” she said. “When we called the office, they basically said that they couldn’t do anything about it and that we had to take matters into our own hands.”
During that time, Green was dealing with a bedbug infestation. As of Wednesday, Ballantyne has three open code violations citing infestations; two of them from this year and one from last November.
“We didn’t have an exterminator come in here for another year,” Green said. “I mean you felt like they were crawling in your ears, and through your clothes, and in the bed with you.”
Green said tenants would approach management to fix the issues, but were repeatedly told the company had no money to pay contractors or maintenance staff.
Now, issues have compounded. Green said parts of the ceiling in the bathroom have started to collapse.
“I used to babysit my grandchildren and I can no longer do that because of everything that’s going on here,” she said.
Recently, Green said two months ago she received a letter informing her of a rent hike from $776 to $1,048. She collects disability payments and housing assistance through Section 8.
“Are you kidding me?, she said. “I don’t have a shower because the whole ceiling and the wall are about to fall down.”
Moving away, she said, is not an option for a lot of the tenants.
“A lot of people can’t afford to move out,” Green added. “It’s not like it is cheaper here. If you stay here you’re not going to be able to save money because you have to buy things like extra blankets or extra space heaters to make it through the winter.”
In some cases, tenants are being evicted.
Ballantyne’s ownership group has filed at least seven non-payment eviction cases in Syracuse City Court with appearances in December and some scheduled for January. The court has granted two eviction orders to be acted on as early as Dec. 26, one dated for Dec. 29, and another with at a date of April 1, 2023.
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