Judge tosses cases, postpones others for Laurel Gardens residents
Judge Noel Rogers dismissed multiple cases in Tuesday’s justice court related to evictions that residents of Laurel Gardens apartments say are wrongful.
Sources familiar with the matter say that when Judge Rogers asked those in attendance to raise their hands if they were from Laurel Gardens, about half of the people there raised their hands. The docket from Tuesday shows that was 11 people. Those who kept records of their rent payments had their cases dismissed; the rest had their cases postponed to December.
A longtime resident at Laurel Gardens, who wished to remain anonymous, said she and others have paid their rent but are still being evicted because of overdue accounts. The money orders were “disappearing,” she said, though her case was dismissed because of her record-keeping.
“(The managers) claim they fired the girl taking money orders, but this has been going on longer than that,” she said. “Some people, their sewer is messed up and coming up through their living room carpets. They charged one lady for unclogging her drain and replacing her fan for normal wear-and-tear. It’s a lot of stories.”
She said the individual Section-8 housing units, which can be bought by a resident who’s lived there for more than 15 years, but that “they’re not going to be worth buying in 15 years.” She alleges the foundations are shifting, appliances don’t work and, as she mentioned, there are plumbing problems.
The housing units, which are on Laurel Garden Drive near Wayne Farms, are reportedly run out of Oxford and Jackson by Sentry Asset Management, LLC. Out of fear of retaliation, a former resident there said that in one instance, when her heating unit went out in the winter, a staffer gave her and her three kids a space heater and told them to turn the oven on. She said her account balance would never reach zero, and the managers never explained why fees were always being added. She said she found herself paying about $1,800 per month.
Both residents alleged that they and neighbors have been harassed with eviction warnings and notices.
Belinda Waters, a former property manager for the company who worked there for seven years, alleged mistreatment from her employers after she stepped up to try to help tenants. She said she was told not to make receipts for rent payments, but she did anyway.
“Any time we needed something done (at the units), the overhead property manager would have to sign off on it,” she said. “They never did. Everyone’s needs were being overlooked. I started being mistreated when I tried to straighten tenants’ ledgers out.”
Waters said tenants were charged with “any little thing.”
“Court fees, repairs, anything,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of messed up ledgers.”
She also said the company is typically under-staffed, with one worker managing multiple properties
Those close to the matter said the main reason for the postponement of cases was to allow all parties more time to find missing records and because the reasons for the evictions aren’t valid right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The federal order is in effect until Dec. 31.
A declaration issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state tenants are protected from evictions “to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.”
The declaration protects those who have “used best efforts to obtain government assistance for rent or housing”; who “expect to earn no more than $99,000 in annual income for the calendar year 2020 (or no more than $198,000 if filing a joint tax return)”; who are “unable to pay my full rent or make a full housing payment due to substantial loss of household income, loss of compensable hours of work or wages, lay-offs, or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses”; and who are “using best efforts to make timely partial payments that are as close to the full payment as the individual’s circumstances may permit, taking into account other non-discretionary expenses.”
The declaration, which tenants can give to landlords as statement of fact, is signed claiming that “if evicted, I would likely become homeless, need to move into a homeless shelter or need to move into a new residence shared by other people who live in close quarters because I have no other available housing options,” hence the CDC’s reasoning that the order prevents the spread of COVID-19.
The order also states, “I must still pay rent or make a housing payment, and comply with other obligations that I may have under my tenancy, lease agreement or similar contract.