ST. LOUIS — When out-of-town owners of a beleaguered south St. Louis apartment complex showed up on site Monday morning with a group of investors, angry employees and contractors scared off one of their vehicles and blocked the other from leaving the parking lot.
“I want my money today!” yelled one man.
“I have kids I have to feed!” yelled another.
The employees — some on strike, others laid off last week — demanded to be paid for running and repairing Southwest Crossing Apartments. The 328-unit complex at 7851 Bandero Drive is one of about 10 large complexes owned by T.E.H. Realty in the St. Louis region.
Nearly all of the properties have generated numerous complaints from residents about poor living conditions, and, on the flip side, T.E.H. has filed numerous lawsuits for nonpayment of rent. The ongoing drama has been the source of numerous news stories.
But on Monday morning at Southwest Crossing, there was a new twist. Apartment management and maintenance employees made parking lot demands directly to T.E.H., a firm with roots in Israel that didn’t make payroll last week.
“I am not leaving until I get paid,” said James Buford, maintenance supervisor, who was one of about 10 people in the crowd. “I will not be performing any work until I get paid.”
Other comments directed to a T.E.H. owner and an associate were more sinister. Cory Thompson, who said he was hired a few weeks ago to clean mold out of apartments, blocked the men in by pulling his large motorcycle behind their red sedan.
“They are playing with my money, my brother’s money, my friend’s money,” he told the Post-Dispatch. “They are playing with everybody’s money.”
Eliram Rabin, one of the owners, remained silent and calm on scene until police arrived.
“That’s a civil matter,” a police officer told the crowd about not being paid. “You can’t prevent them from leaving.”
Rabin and the associate drove off in the red sedan, which had expired license plates. Thompson chased them off the parking lot, then north on Interstate 55 for several miles.
“I was hoping they were going to pull over and give me my money,” he said, upon returning to Southwest Crossing on the motorcycle.
Police gave the group contact information for the city’s Citizens’ Service Bureau.
“Trash. Rats. Mice … unsecured buildings. Mold. All of that is here,” the property manager, Leilani Liddell, told police.
She told the Post-Dispatch that money wasn’t available even to pay for trash pickup. Garbage was piled high.
“It’s a clear sign of them coming over to America and trying to capitalize on poor people,” she said. “They don’t know the laws. They tell us to do illegal things.”
All the T.E.H. apartment complex managers in the St. Louis region were expected to meet Monday to discuss the matter of not being paid. Blocking off owners in the parking lot wasn’t part of the script, said Janet Carthen, manager of Bridgeport Crossing Apartments in Bridgeton.
She said Liddell went “rogue.”
“When we speak, we need to speak as one,” said Carthen.
While Southwest Crossing employees demanded to be paid for the last pay period, residents lambasted management for not doing their jobs for months.
“My toilet was broken for two weeks and I told them over and over,” said JoAnna Nelson, 50.
She was upset Monday because Liddell wouldn’t open the front office to give her a UPS package. Take it up with T.E.H., Liddell told her.
“We are not working,” Liddell said. “We don’t have a job.”
Another resident said sewage was backing up in some of the apartments.
“I understand if they don’t have funds from the owner, but they don’t have to lie to us about it,” said the resident, who feared to be identified because she didn’t have anywhere else to go. “We have people who are living in this complex who have children, who are elderly. I mean this is bad for their health.”
Amanda Jackson, 34, said her son has had breathing problems since he came home from the hospital one year ago. She said she’s complained about Southwest Crossing to the city’s health department. She thinks there is mold in nearby units.
The complex has been under a city public nuisance notice since Oct. 19, 2018.
“I try not to keep him here even on my days off,” Jackson said of her son. “I try to keep him away from his own home because he breathes better anywhere else.”