Residents of Carriage House of Columbus on the Northeast Side say neglect and a lack of response to maintenance requests are jeopardizing their living conditions.
Fadumo Issack, a tenant of the 192-unit townhouse complex, pulled a lighter from a kitchen drawer recently and lit her semi-functioning stove.
“The smell of gas is too strong, and she’s worried it might explode,” said her 25-year-old son, Mohamed Abdi, translating for her.
There are 93 active violations on file for the complex at 3535 Derbyshire Drive, according to city code enforcement records.
With 43 notices over the past two years, Carriage House also made the city’s most recent list of the 10 most problematic landlords in November. The list is compiled each year based on points accumulated through code violations and any civil or criminal court cases filed on properties.
The property houses a large number of immigrants.
Hassan Omar, president of the Somali Community Association of Ohio, estimated that about 70% of the residents are Somali immigrants.
“Property managers aren’t treating them equal,” Omar said. “They don’t speak the language or know the law. They can’t defend themselves, and it has been a huge challenge.”
He added that anyone with a language barrier is “affected by such mistreatment.”
As of July 2, there were 81 interior housing violations, nine environmental violations, two exterior housing violations and a zoning violation with the city at Carriage House. The violations included damaged doors, windows and screens; water leaks; damaged floors and ceilings; infestations and parking lot maintenance problems.
"We are working diligently with the city’s code enforcement office to cure all violations,” said Valerie Jerome, a spokeswoman for Millennia Housing Management, the Cleveland-based company that owns the property.
As long as management works with the city toward compliance, the complex will continue to be inspected every other week, said Heather Truesdell, Columbus’ code enforcement administrator. “If they don’t, we will consult the city attorney’s office and take court actions.”
In May, the Legal Aid Society of Columbus filed a civil lawsuit against Carriage House in Franklin County Municipal Court on behalf of 12 tenants and the Ohio Neighborhood Preservation Association. The complaints mirror the violations filed by the city’s code enforcement office.
“We have negotiated an agreement with Carriage House and its management to remedy the outstanding code violation notices,” said Melissa Benson, a Legal Aid staff attorney working on the case.
Units participating in the Housing Choice Voucher program by Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority, a program that provides housing assistance to low-income families, also have to undergo inspections to meet housing quality standards, said Chad Meek, vice president of the program. Of the 49 Carriage House units where residents use vouchers, he said, three failed the latest inspection.
Abdi said the problems at the complex started about three years ago when the management changed hands.
The complex was bought by Millennia Housing Management in April 2016. There were five city code violation cases on file in July 2016. But two years later, inspectors filed 161 cases, which prompted the city’s Department of Development’s Proactive Code Enforcement team to do routine inspections starting early 2019.
Some residents say that the poor conditions of the property pose a health risk.
“Every two to three days, my kids get sick,” said Idin Ali, who has been a tenant for more than eight years. She and her family moved into their current house over a year ago after seven years in a different unit in the same complex.
“The rug is so dirty,” Ali said pointing to the carpet in the living room. “My son’s asthma has worsened.”
Ali’s 13-year-old daughter, Sumeya, pointed to numerous problems as she walked around the house.
“When we complain, (the staff) write it on paper, come inspect it, say they’ll fix it and then don’t fix it,” Ali said. “I’m tired of this.”
However, not all the tenants have had bad experiences.
Toni Coles, who has been living in the complex for about six months, said her maintenance requests have been corrected in a timely manner.
“So far, I haven’t had any problems,” she said.