Legal team helps Rolling Hills tenants with unfit conditions

Rolling Hills resident Camalla Clark makes a point during the meeting held by the Human Relations Department and Legal Aid of N.C. on Thursday, Aug. 4. The meeting was held to educate Rolling Hills tenants on the Fair Housing Act.

Legal team helps Rolling Hills tenants with unfit conditions
August 11
07:30 2016

Photo by Tevin Stinson 



Last week city officials and Legal Aid of N.C., a statewide program that provides free legal services in civil matters to low-income people, sat down with residents of the Rolling Hills apartment complex to discuss actions they can take if their living conditions are unfit.

A handful of residents from the apartment complex located in East Winston gathered at the Family Services Learning Center for the crash course on everything from how to file a complaint with the city, to the process of taking legal action, and every step in between.

Managing attorney for LANC’s Forsyth County office Valene Franco said, after hearing about what was going on in the Rolling Hills apartment complex, they felt the need to let residents know what they can do to help. Last month, city officials announced 97 of the 110 units in the low-income apartment complex had at least one housing code violation. At that time city officials notified complex owners, Aspen Companies Management LLC, based in New Jersey, that all corrections must me made in a timely manner or face they would face fines. According to reports, a number of units had rodent and rat infestations.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, other units had much bigger issues, including leaking sewage.

“We thought it was important to get the word out about the resources available in the community,” said Franco. “Some people may feel like there is noting they can do. We take it as our responsibility to spread the word that there is something you can do.”

To begin the meeting, Legal Aid attorney Liza Barron discussed the responsibilities of landlords under the city code and Fair Housing Act. Barron encouraged tenants to read their leases and keep a record of all unfit living conditions after reporting them to the landlord. She said it is important to keep a record because it can be used as evidence, if they decide to take legal action.

“It’s important that you read all the terms of service listed in your lease,” she continued. “If the landlord refuses to make repairs or takes too long, there could be a breach of contract and you can go to court.”

Barron noted to begin the legal process the city must first conduct an inspection. Although the city cannot force the landlord to make repairs, they can levy fines every day until repairs are made.

Next, Human Relations Department director Wanda Allen-Abraha and fair housing investigators Adolfo Brieno and Jelani Biggs discussed the inspection process carried out by the city, and how they are handling the complaints they already know about. Brieno and Biggs mentioned while some repairs have been made at the complex, nearly a dozen units still need repairs.

While acknowledging that many people in the community may not know about the Fair Housing Act or their rights as tenants, Abraha said having information sessions can help change that narrative. She mentioned human relations representatives have been going door to door speak-ing with residents to find out what’s going on.

According to Abraha, after talking one on one with tenants, they were able to find out more than half a dozen tenants have experienced some type of discrimination from management.

“We have received allegations based on race discrimination, sex discrimination, and disability dis-crimination,” she continued. “At last count we have about seven open cases that we are looking into. There could be more.”

Abraha said they will continue to speak with residents to find out if any others have had their rights violated.

Following the meeting, residents spoke with The Chronicle about what they learned.

Although she hasn’t had any major issues in her apartment, Teresa Archea, who has lived in Rolling Hills for 11 years, said she decided to attend the meeting just to arm herself with knowledge, just in case she has any issues in the future.

As she sat among a sea of empty seats, Acrhea said she was disappointed that more people didn’t attend.

“The people who really need this information aren’t here,” she said. “They are providing us with the information we need. I learned a lot of valuable information about my rights that I didn’t even know.

“I wish the people who are having the real issues were here to get this information. We have to do a better job of taking care of ourselves and our community. It has to begin with us,” Archea said.

Later this month the Human Relations Department will host a follow-up session. A date has not yet been set.

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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