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‘People shouldn’t have to live like this’

Complaints of mice, mold at Terrace Meadows

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Boarded

Boarded Up— Managment put slabs of plywood over some of the doors in the apartment complex. 

Residents at Terrace Meadows Apartments are disgusted with their living situations, and rounds of evictions and non-renewals have prompted them to speak out.

“I’ve lived out in the Terrace Meadows Apartments with my husband for seven years,” said Betsy McGuire, a long-time resident. Betsy and her husband, Dwayne, decided last month not to renew their lease. “For the first six years, it wasn’t that bad. It had gone downhill from moving in for the first couple of years. We’ve had slum lords, but they didn’t compare.”

The McGuires went all winter without heat last year, and they had to bring a space heater into their apartment to keep it warm. This summer they were provided with an air conditioning unit, but it was attached to a hose and they had to dump a five gallon bucket of water periodically throughout the day. They still needed multiple fans throughout the apartment.

More than 16 current or recently relocated tenants at Terrace Meadows detailed problems like mold, mice, raw sewage seeping into the courtyard, no air conditioning or heat, no way to pay rent, and plumbing problems that leave first floor apartments flooded after the second floor apartments drain water.

“I feel for the other people that live here,” said Joy Calloway, a former resident who lived at Terrace Meadows for five years.

mouse

Captured— A mouse caught under a carryout box after the complex said it had taken care of the mice infestation. 

Calloway had trouble with mice in her apartment and started seeing multiple mice each day. She said the mice terrified her granddaughters, and she was concerned about finding mice droppings and even dead mice underneath her granddaughters’ beds and in cabinets.

Calloway started surrounding her bed with cotton balls dipped in peppermint because she heard that kept mice away. She said another one of her neighbors tried to seal a hole in their wall with duct tape. The mice just chewed through it.

Calloway said management put sticky traps in the hallways, but no one would come remove the traps when dead mice were decomposing in them. The mice problem persisted, and eventually Calloway reported the apartments to the Howard County Board of Health.

“They said that they had Rose Pest Control come out,” Calloway said. “Nobody’s even seen Rose Pest Control. Doing the outside, if that’s what they did, is not helping. They’re inside the walls. We heard them.”

After Calloway called the Board of Health, the landlord asked for her name and apartment. She was then told the apartments would not be renewing her lease.

“They said they were going to evacuate the building. That was our reasoning, our 30-day notice. There are still two other tenants living in the building,” Calloway said. “I asked if they could move us to another apartment while they do the repairs. ‘Well, ugh, we’ll get back with you in 2023.’ Within the time we were still here, they probably moved three or four more people in.”

Brook Milburn, the environmental health director of the Howard County Health Department, said the health department has verified the complex has issues with both mice and sewage. It has been working with the owners of the property on the issues, and Milburn said it has receipts for a pest control company the owner hired.

Milburn said the department will be checking up on Terrace Meadows to ensure the problems are actually resolved. He said it can take time to clear up an infestation, but if it was handled properly, the mouse problem should be resolved for residents within the next month.

As for the raw sewage, Milburn said the owner of the apartments will need to work with the city to fix the pipes under the property. If either of the issues are not resolved by the next time the Board of Health checks up on Terrace Meadows, the board will take further action to enforce the necessary changes. Milburn said it is a process.

“We keep track of complaints,” Milburn said. “It’s on our list.”

Calloway said she believes she experienced retaliation for calling the Board of Health, and she said the people living in the apartments deserve better.

“I’m good. My family is good, they’re going to be out of here. But there are people here living in these kinds of conditions because they have to for financial reasons,” Calloway said.

“There are other people that live here who have kids, and they can’t use their voice and speak up because they don’t have the money to move. It’s hard to find a place. Even though my situation’s better, there are other people who can’t speak for themselves, and it’s not fair for them to have to live like this.”

Another resident who asked not to be named said he also has mice, but he is more concerned about paying his rent. He did not want to give his name because he fears retaliation.

“I can’t get on TenantCloud. I can’t pay my rent,” the man said. “I’m scared they’ll take all my money. I’ll get kicked out, and I don’t have any place to go.”

Previous landlords and property managers accepted various forms of payment, but the new managers of the apartments only allow payment through TenantCloud. Residents who had previously paid by check or money order no longer have that option.

“I’ve been trying to pay, but it doesn’t work,” Richard Lopez, who is also a resident at Terrace Meadows, said. There were at least six other residents who said they had trouble logging on to the site and could not pay their rent.

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Roberta Wallis is not a resident at Terrace Meadows, but she and her daughter visited Terrace Meadows to see if the office was open. Wallis lives at Countryside Villas, which is managed by the same property owners. She said Countryside Villas has many similar problems to Terrace Meadows.

Wallis also could not use TenantCloud to pay her rent. Since her building’s front office was also closed, she came to Terrace Meadows, money order in hand, to try to pay her rent. She left Terrace Meadows upset, confused, and worried about being kicked out of her apartment.

Door

Don't Knock— One of the apartment doors clarifies that it is not the office. 

Many tenants who originally had trouble logging in to TenantCloud tried to put their rent in the drop box at the front office. Eventually there was a sign posted that said the box was not checked often and rent placed in the drop box would accumulate late fees.

No one is able to speak with anyone in the office because the front door has a large piece of plywood nailed over the front to prevent anyone from entering, and the phone number for the apartments is a text-only line. This has left many uncertain about their housing situation.

The property is owned by a group called Persistent Properties, and residents say they have interacted with a man named Jerry Morrow.

When reached for comment, someone at the apartment’s phone number texted back and spoke to the Perspective about the issues. The man would not give his name or say for whom he worked, but he said the majority of issues were caused by three to five individuals who intentionally destroyed apartments.

The man also said only the troublemakers are being evicted, and everyone else is just not having their lease renewed. He emphasized there is a difference and said they are working on repairing the damages.

As for TenantCloud, he recommended tenants call the 1-800 number on the TenantCloud website for assistance if they need help.

A big issue with tenants’ leases is that many long-term residents never officially renewed their original leases. Some tenants who have lived at Terrace Meadows have been on month-to-month leases for years. Many of the residents were surprised when they learned they were expected to start paying significantly more rent or move out the next month.

“My lease is up today,” Lynn Thomas said on Sept. 30. Thomas said she struggles with health issues and has been overwhelmed by the turn of events. She lived at Terrace Meadows for seven years and had always paid a flat rate of $575 each month.

In August, Thomas was made aware that rent for her one bedroom apartment was being increased to $840 a month, not including utilities. Thomas also did not have any air conditioning in her apartment this summer, and it has not been fixed. She said she gets $860 each month on disability, and she cannot afford the nearly $1,000 per month she would be paying to stay, but she has nowhere else to go. She was concerned about her sobriety and debated going straight to a drug treatment facility.

“We shouldn’t have to pay rent. Nothing gets fixed. The landlord won’t approve fixes. And nothing is written. It’s all sent through text messages,” Thomas said. “I’m scared. I’m terrified.”

Another Terrace Meadows resident named Brandy Nova had a hole in her ceiling that let in moths, flies and mice. Nova raised her kids on a tree-lined street in a nice house on Buckeye but moved to Terrace Meadows to save space.

torn down

Torn Down— Terrace Meadows resident Jaden Turner had to take her ceiling tiles down because they molded. She asked for replacement tiles, but the manager never sent them.

Nova noticed when she first moved in that one of the kitchen drawers was broken, so she called maintenance. They never came out to fix anything, even after she began struggling with the mold in the apartment. Her two small dogs got sick, and she had to give one of them allergy shots so she would not react as strongly to the mold.

“They never fixed the ceilings, they never got rid of the mold,” Nova said. “They never fixed anything, right down to the kitchen drawer.”

Eventually, Nova refused to pay her rent and was evicted.

Terrace Meadows resident Jewell Chorrushi is dealing with what she describes as an illegal eviction from the apartment complex. Chorrushi said she detailed her criminal background to the apartments when she first moved in and was approved.

Recently, however, Chorrushi came back to her apartment to find her locks changed and a piece of plywood nailed over her front door. She was told her baby was vandalizing apartments and stealing supplies from management and that her own criminal background made her ineligible to live there. Chorrushi also had no central air, which was not good for her young child.

“I think that what’s happened here is pretty egregious,” Justin Clouser, Chorrushi’s lawyer, said.

Richard Hillman is a veteran who lives at Terrace Meadows, but he is looking to move out soon. He said it’s a shame things have gotten so bad because the residents at Terrace Meadows are good people.

“It’s terrible the way things are going on. They don’t fix anything,” Hillman said. “Let’s be realistic; people shouldn’t have to live like this.”