MEMPHIS, Tenn. — WREG Investigators have uncovered a scathing report from state inspectors that underscores safety and health issues residents of Serenity Towers have long sounded the alarm about.
No hot water, a bed bug infestation, and seniors suffering in the sweltering heat. That’s a short list of what residents like Robert Nichols have dealt with at Serenity Towers in just the past six months.
The 70-year-old has lived there for the past decade.
It’s bad,” Nichols said. “It’s real bad.”
On this particular August day, the air conditioning is out again at the senior high rise.
“And, you know, heat rise up. So you know how I’m feeling on that ninth floor!” Nichols said.
The AC was back on by the end of that day. A spokesperson for Millennia, the company that manages the taxpayer-funded units, said the “underlying issue was triggered by a power outage.”
That outage happened in the midst of ongoing repairs at Serenity Towers after residents were initially without air for weeks in May and June.
Code enforcement officers found even more problems on-site, so attorneys for Millennia spent months in and out of Environmental Court after being hit with dozens of code violations.
This resident, who doesn’t want to show his face, called the News Channel 3 Investigators around the same time, because one of the elevators was out again, which is another ongoing problem at Serenity.
“It’s just not right. Had them to court and everything else, but they’re not doing anything, they are just thumbing their nose,” he said.
The county office that inspects elevators visited the complex during that time, noting multiple issues, including an elevator closed for repair.
When WREG followed up recently, the county sent an inspector by and discovered that the same elevator was out again and Serenity hadn’t sent the inspector’s report to the elevator maintenance company.
“This is a life-threatening situation. It should be addressed appropriately,” a resident said.
“Life-threatening” are the same two words state inspectors used to describe the gravity of some of the conditions they found during a visit to Serenity Towers in June.
The News Channel 3 Investigators obtained a copy of the Tennessee Housing and Development Agency’s most recent Management and Occupancy Review of Serenity Towers.
The agency said, “Both management and maintenance of the property have been inadequate.” The complex received an overall rating of “Unsatisfactory”, the lowest possible, with THDA citing nearly 40 conditions that needed to be addressed.
Ralph Perrey is the agency’s executive director.
“Sloppy recordkeeping procedures not followed, tasks not completed or done wrong. That’s an unusual number of corrective items for us to cite on a property,” Perrey said.
THDA conducts periodic inspections at properties like Serenity that receive taxpayer money for rent payments. Perrey says the agency checks the books and determines whether policies are followed, and looks at the property’s security and appearance.
“We don’t have the authority to do a full building inspection,” Perrey said. “We can’t go into anybody’s units, we can’t investigate things, but we can sort of eyeball the property and write down our observations.”
What they saw at Serenity, according to the report, was a “property in poor condition” and “leasing activities” that “resulted in multiple non-compliance issues”.
That included 149 open work orders open 30 days or longer, charging unapproved, inappropriate fees, and not screening tenants appropriately after records revealed a “tenant may have been a sex offender and allowed to move in, endangering other tenants.”
“A lot of things that we cited as needing corrective action,” Perrey said.
The MOR was conducted as those major repairs to the HVAC system were underway at Serenity in June. According to the report, it stemmed from a “crack in the building chiller that was discovered when the property switched from heating to cooling.”
But inspectors noted that indicates “preventive maintenance had not been properly performed.” THDA said that was also evidenced by three failed HUD inspections and wrote the building wasn’t in “decent, safe or sanitary condition”.
“Bottom line is, they don’t do any preventative maintenance,” Perrey said. “If they did preventative maintenance, a lot of these issues would go away.”
Contrary to what was noted in the MOR, Millennia spokesperson, Valerie Jerome, told WREG they were following a preventative maintenance schedule, it was just that the work wasn’t being properly documented because of staffing challenges.
Jerome said it’s an issue that has been rectified.
She also said workers have received training on screening, that elevator that was out is up and running, and they sent their elevator vendor those notes from the county inspector about additional repairs.
The Millennia spokesperson said the only outstanding issue is bed bug treatment, which is ongoing.
HUD also conducted an inspection at Serenity Towers this summer and the complex got a 62, which is considered “passing” by two points.
Lawyers for Serenity Towers head back to environmental court on November 22nd.