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Renters’ Rebellion

Renters’ Rebellion

One 85-year-old resident said he nearly failed an inspection because there were bread crumbs underneath his toaster

BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI

Some residents of La Resolana Seniors Community in Northeast Albuquerque have an idea they believe would show how the Section 8, rent-assisted facility is run by its owner and manager. They want to print up signs with the word “cell” and put them above their apartment numbers. They complain managers run the complex like a prison and use intimidation and a system of snitches to frighten them into compliance with ever-changing and increasingly restrictive rules.

The complex at 1025 Chelwood Park Blvd. NE, at the corner of Chelwood Park Boulevard and Mountain Road Northeast has 166 federally subsidized apartments for the low-income elderly and disabled. Its operation is overseen by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

La Resolana residents could once barbecue with charcoal and electric grills. No more. Only grills that use small, camping-size, one-pound propane tanks are allowed.
Wheelchairs and other assistive equipment many residents use to get around can no longer be stored on patios. Residents of second-floor units have been told they can’t sit out in their enclosed walkways because of fire code restrictions.

The complex went smoke-free in January, a situation that has sparked some of the conflict between residents and management.

Residents said they have been given 10-day notices of potential eviction based on hearsay. Management doesn’t verify the complaints for accuracy and it doesn’t give residents a chance to confront their accusers, they said.

Managers installed locks on the HVAC air filters in some apartments, apparently in an attempt to catch smokers when the filters are changed out. Some residents said annual inspections of their apartments are overly strict and that the inspections are used to hammer them into submission.

One 85-year-old resident said he nearly failed an inspection because there were bread crumbs underneath his toaster.

A 93-year-old woman with congestive heart failure and who needs a walker to get around was moved to a second-floor apartment from her ground-level unit until management can locate a one-bedroom for her on the first floor.

A 68-year-old resident said the president of the company that owns the complex took a five-gallon propane tank out of the bed of his pickup truck and then tried to evict him after he filed suit to get it back.

And on June 5, management banned residents from wearing sleeveless t-shirts or housecoats in public areas of the property.

La Resolana is owned by New Mexico-American Housing Foundation, Inc., which is based in Virginia. The contract property manager, Carnes & Co., Inc., of Albuquerque, said the company couldn’t discuss specific cases without written permission from the seven residents who spoke to ABQ Free Press about their situations. He denied any infringement of residents’ rights.
Company president Sam Carnes said in a written statement that the residents, many of whom are smokers, have been angry since the complex went smoke-free in January.

“There are a very small number of residents who have been extremely disgruntled since the property implemented a no-smoking policy on the premises and banned the use or possession of large propane tanks in the property in 2014,” Carnes wrote.

“The owner of the property adopted these rule changes to protect the safety, health and welfare of the residents of this property, whose residents primarily are elderly and infirm, and should apply to all residents.”

Carnes also said that management investigates complaints that rise to the level of HUD or house rule violations.

“Management does what could be considered typical fact finding on the issue and then, if warranted, prepares a 10-day notice of violation,” Carnes said. “Each 10-day notice goes through several layers of review before it is issued to a resident.”

Residents disagree. They said management targets those who challenge its rules and authority.
Gloria Hajduk, who has lived at La Resolana since 1998, pulled no punches. “It’s starting to feel like a prison and a Gestapo camp. You can’t smoke, everyone’s walking on eggs. You have to be careful about what you say or do,” Hajduk said.

The 76-year-old Hajduk recently received a 10-day notice of violation for smoking and talking on the phone with her front door open that began with the words, “It has been reported.” Hajduk fired back a response to management that read:

“Your report is unsubstantiated, a fabrication and an insult. I have not smoked in my apartment as of this year. I never talk on the phone with my front door open, and as of April 13, my birthday, I have stopped using tobacco. Your information is faulty at best, and a violation of my privacy at worst. It seems that this current administration continues to create an environment of intimidation

and ultimate stress, employing snitches and using hearsay as proof. Please let me live in my apartment in peace.”

The propane tank

In 2014, management issued new house rules banning the use of charcoal and electric grills, as well as on-property storage of five-gallon propane tanks.

Resident Michael Lawler, then 67, objected. He pointed out that the City of Albuquerque’s fire code allows for storage of five-gallon propane tanks on multi-family residential properties so long as they are stored 10 feet from any building. His five-gallon tank was safely stored in the bed of his 1991 Toyota pickup truck 30 to 50 feet from any building.

Management disagreed, and on the afternoon of Oct. 14, Carnes and Brant Baber, president of the company that owns La Resolana, decided to take action. According to witnesses Sandra King and Roselyn Strohl – both La Resolana residents – Carnes and Baber went to Lawler’s pickup and looked underneath the tarp that covered the pickup’s bed. Carnes went into the complex’s office and Baber took the propane tank out of the truck.

Lawler saw what was happening and confronted Baber. Baber elbowed him and stepped on his feet, Lawler said, then made off with the propane tank. Lawler called it theft and in February filed a case in Metropolitan Court to get it returned. La Resolana responded by filing a countersuit that sought Lawler’s eviction.

Carnes said the ban on large propane tanks is necessary because the complex consists of 166 wood-framed apartments without sprinklers that are occupied by elderly and disabled residents. “We determined not to take a chance on someone failing to properly use their large propane tanks or other open flame devices – charcoal grills, etc.,” Carnes said.

Lawler represented himself in the case. On May 20, after brief trial, Metro Court Judge Rosie Lazcano Allred dismissed the eviction case against Lawler.

Lawler has had other trouble with management. Earlier this year, two police officers showed up at his apartment investigating the alleged use of marijuana. The two officers said they had been called and told that the smell of pot smoke was coming from his apartment, Lawler said. He denied having used marijuana that day. He wasn’t arrested or charged.

Targeting dissent

Lawler said he’s a target of management because he challenges their rules. Trouble for him began a couple of years ago, when he said management was breaking its own rules by entering residents’ apartments on the pretext of safety concerns. The rules allow unauthorized entry only for emergencies, Lawler said.

“I was a target because I was outspoken about the rules and had tagged them more than once for going into apartments without the requisite 24-hour notice,” Lawler said.
Management has twice offered to return Lawler’s propane tank, but only if he signs a receipt for it. Lawler has refused the offer and said he won’t sign a receipt to get back property that he believes was stolen from him.

Eighty-five-year-old Don Pierce has lived at La Resolana for around five years, and in that time he has passed only one apartment inspection. He has short-term memory loss and doesn’t remember exactly when he almost got busted for having bread crumbs underneath his toaster.

Pierce said the property’s on-site manager, Martie Masten, was doing an inspection of his apartment. “She wrote down [on an inspection checklist] that I had crumbs around my toaster,” Pierce recalled. “I had just finished breakfast. I guess you have to be a friend or a relative to pass [an inspection]. It’s kind of aggravating.”

Pierce said his troubles with management began after he signed a petition requesting that Masten be fired. Masten did not return a phone call requesting comment for this story.
Esther Harrison is 93 and has lived at La Resolana for five years. Until earlier this year she shared a two-bedroom, ground-floor apartment with her son. But the two decided to split up and get their own apartments. Harrison, who can walk only with a walker, requested to stay in the apartment until a single bedroom unit opened up on the first floor. Her request was denied. Harrison, who has congestive heart failure, was put in a second-floor unit in March.

“They said that if I stayed in the two-bedroom apartment I would have to pay $920 a month,” Harrison said.

“I cannot walk without a walker and I have an injured right knee and I can’t walk long distances,” Harrison said. “I believe they were forcing me to take the second-floor apartment.”
Harrison had another shock from management in April when she spent two weeks in a hospital.

“I called [an office employee] and I said, ‘I’m in the hospital and I’m going to be a little late with the rent,” Harrison said. “Then she said, ‘If you’re late you will have to pay an extra five dollars.’ And I said, ‘Where is the compassion?’ and she said, ‘We don’t go by compassion; we go by rules and regulations.’”

ABQ Free Press spoke with that employee by telephone and she declined to comment. Carnes said management has “followed all applicable HUD rules” in Harrison’s case. “And all of our residents on the second floor have access to a walkway and to elevators.”

Barging in

In April, resident Verrill DeWitt fell into a cactus on the grounds. Needles penetrated her clothes and body. Strohl and King took the 68-year-old DeWitt to DeWitt’s apartment where they removed her clothes, laid her down on a living room couch and started hand-picking the needles out of her body. Then they got a surprise.

Resident Tobias Katz, a La Resolana employee who is supposed to respond to smoke alarm calls and resident lockouts, was peering in the apartment’s front window. He allegedly pushed the front door in and entered the apartment, King said.

“I said, ‘Get him out of here,’” King recalled. “Roz [Strohl] said, ‘What are you doing here?’ and he said he wanted to find out if she [DeWitt] knew that her clothes were outside.”
King and Strohl had received 10-day smoking violation notices shortly after Katz entered DeWitt’s apartment. They said they weren’t smoking. They believe Katz reported them.
Katz responded to an ABQ Free Press phone message about the situation and directed the paper to call his employer, Carnes & Co.

Carnes said only a small number of disgruntled residents have complained about conditions at La Resolana. But on July 26, 2013, more than 30 residents met with a HUD representative on the property to discuss their grievances. They laid out 14 complaints, including retaliation.

The unease appears to be lingering. On June 5, Lawler turned on the public computer in the media room of La Resolana’s clubhouse. The screensaver had been changed. That morning it flashed a message that said: “If you don’t like living here, MOVE!”

“This is a pattern of conduct designed to intimidate,” Lawler said. “It’s a hostile living environment.”

— Dennis Domrzalski

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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