ST. LOUIS — Tenants at a south city apartment complex began a weeklong rent strike Sunday against property owner T.E.H. Realty because of poor living conditions.
A group of about a dozen protesters stood in drizzle and strong winds to protest paying rent while their maintenance and safety concerns go unaddressed.
They held signs and handed out fliers encouraging people to picket with them. The group, formally known as the Southwest Crossing Tenants’ Association, plans to protest from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday through Thursday at the Southwest Crossing apartments.
The 300-unit complex at 7851 Bandero Drive is owned by T.E.H. Realty, a company rooted in Israel that owns about a dozen low-income rental properties in the St. Louis area. T.E.H. has recently made headlines for poor conditions at its properties here. Last month, no representatives for T.E.H. showed in court for 34 cases regarding the lack of heat at multiple units at Bridgeport Crossing Apartments.
Attempts to reach T.E.H. for comment Sunday were unsuccessful.
Terrell Woodson, 53, took a reporter on a tour Sunday of the Southwest Crossing apartments in the city’s Carondelet neighborhood. He’s lived there since 2014, currently occupies a one-bedroom apartment and relies on disability to make ends meet.
In the laundry room, Woodson pointed to a gaping hole in the ceiling. The table beneath it was covered in water. The roof issue began as a small hole, he said, but was neglected until it became a mess of soggy insulation, flaky ceiling and black mold. Water comes up through the floor drains, too, he said.
The mold problems aren’t limited to the laundry room; in other parts of the complex, it’s bad enough that passersby can see spots of black mold on the windows. In some places, the mold is everywhere and can be smelled from the outside.
Near the entrance to the complex, he gestured to a broken-out window and multiple potholes in the parking lot.
“It didn’t used to be like this,” Woodson said, as he looked around and sighed. He calls the police when he sees suspected drug activity, or when he hears gunshots, like he did right outside of his front door a few nights ago.
“Sometimes they come, sometimes they don’t,” he said. Between 2009 and 2018, the number of complaints to the city each year about conditions at Southwest Crossing Apartments varied between three and 26.
This year, though, the city has received 76 complaints about mold, insufficient heat, defective plumbing, mice and roach infestations and other problems, according to a Post-Dispatch review of the data.
Two moving trucks could be seen at Southwest Crossing on Sunday. When people move, Woodson said, squatters and homeless people kick the doors in and sleep in vacant apartments.
At the end of October, the company couldn’t make payroll and laid off 15 employees. Residents at Southwest Crossing and Shultz said the leasing office staff walked out after they weren’t paid, and there hasn’t been any staff in sight since.
Rhonda Couch used to work for T.E.H. Realty. She was a floating property manager with them for a while, until she was placed at Blue Fountain Apartments in the city’s Baden neighborhood.
“They just didn’t want to fix anything,” she said. It was always a struggle to fix even the smallest of problems.
“You can’t buy a light bulb without telling them what apartment it goes in,” she said. Couch left the company last year and now works as a property manager for a different one. She said the environment at her new job, for both employees and tenants, is “much better.”
As there’s no management or maintenance crews onsite at Southwest Crossing, there’s no one to lock doors when tenants move out. Some of the doors, even on occupied properties, don’t have locks anyway, said Michael Shultz.
“I have multiple tenants without locks,” said Shultz, a volunteer with the local chapter of Homes for All, a fair housing advocacy organization. “They’re (T.E.H. Realty) telling people they need to pay $30 for a deadbolt that they never had in the first place.” Shultz noted it is illegal to rent an apartment without a locking door. He has been helping the Southwest Crossing tenants organize since March, he said.
Neither T.E.H. Realty, nor any of its contracted management offices, answer or return calls from tenants, Shultz and Woodson said. Even when lawyers call, Shultz said, they can’t get anyone to pick up.
The association has a letter of demands for T.E.H. Realty including functioning appliances, heating and cooling systems, plumbing and laundry facilities, roof and insulation repairs, clean common areas, regular trash pickup, functioning locks on all units and mailboxes, better screening of tenants by management, a 24-hour maintenance hotline and a suggestion to reopen and staff the onsite police substation.
The tenants are also demanding the ceasing of all rent payments or eviction orders until the demands are met. A final demand asks for a meeting between T.E.H. Realty representatives and the Southwest Crossing Tenants’ Association.
DeJuan Burrell, 31, said he feels the landlords only care about the rent money. He lives in a one-bedroom apartment with his girlfriend, Avion Carson, 32. Mold, no working heat, and a broken dishwasher and garbage disposal are a few issues they’re coping with.
“They’re not doing their jobs,” Burrell said.
The issues go on throughout the complex, Woodson, Burrell and Shultz said: Outside lights that don’t work. Roach and rat infestations. Trash, bagged or not, strewn everywhere throughout the property. Boarded-up windows, broken railings and playground equipment that looks like it hasn’t been touched in months.
“I can’t have my kids over here,” Burrell said. He has two 14-year-old daughters and a 5-year-old son. “I can’t have kids in this kind of environment.” Carson said they are thinking about moving elsewhere.
“It’s really bad out here,” Woodson said. “It’s unsafe. I can only imagine what people think when they drive by.”