By Emily Le Coz, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Tupelo, Miss.
Nov. 1, 2009
TUPELO – The brief working relationship between the former Evergreen Square apartment complex and the city of Tupelo appears over.
The two had seemingly cooperated the past year to correct a host of code violations at the low-income complex on Lawndale Drive.
But that partnership fizzled last month when the city spotted raw sewage bubbling into a few units. The problem was fixed within the city’s 24-hour deadline, but the incident caused friction between the municipality and the complex’s owner, Roland Von Kurnatowski.
According to a series of e-mails obtained by the Daily Journal, attorneys for Von Kurnatowski hoped to meet with city officials so their client could “levy certain complaints and discuss inconsistencies in the treatment being received by Evergreen Square.”
The e-mails specifically referenced a “threat” made by Tupelo building inspector Debra Byrd, who had said she’d shut off water to the entire complex if the sewage leaks weren’t immediately repaired. Stephanie Rebman 10/29/09 who called it a threat? isn’t it a rule or a decision rather than a threat?
Byrd told the Daily Journal this week Mike Tonos 10/29/09 change if runs after Saturday she was within her legal right to take that action and had received permission to do so by the Tupelo Water & Light Department.
Byrd also said that while on-site apartment staff have been courteous and professional, the complex continues to deteriorate from neglect. It also racks up more code-violation complaints than any other apartment complex in the city. The 257-unit property was in such bad shape that the city last year imposed a September 2008 deadline to have everything up to code or face condemnation. It later extended that deadline through spring of this year to give the owners more time.
“We got assurance they would begin … to bring all those down units back into commerce, but up to now they have not done that,” Byrd said. “In the meantime we continue to get complaints.”
But according to an attorney for Von Kurnatowski, the apartment complex has been unfairly targeted by the city over “personal vendettas.”
“This story has been painted one way for a long time,” said attorney Brian Yoakum of Memphis. “We are confident that we will ultimately prove that these allegations of neglect and abuse are wholly untrue. As this story develops, it will become apparent to any unbiased observers that this is all being driven by the personal vendettas of certain city officials.”
Yoakum did not elaborate. He did say his client tried to resolve those issues at a meeting with city officials but that the city abruptly canceled.
The meeting had been set for Oct. 20, but it was called off by city attorneys who were unaware of it until the last minute. They warned against the meeting because of an ongoing lawsuit against the apartment complex in which city employees are involved.
“We disagree that such a meeting is in the best interest of the city of Tupelo,” wrote city attorney Martha Stegall, “and do not see how it is possible that meeting can be unrelated to the ongoing litigation.”
Yoakum had insisted otherwise.
The lawsuit was filed late last year by former apartment tenants who claim they were subjected to intolerable living conditions. They are represented by Tupelo attorneys Lawrence Deas and Michael Gratz.
Von Kurnatowski and his New Orleans-based company Fountainbleau Management are represented by Yoakum and Clarksdale attorney Bill Luckett, who has announced he’ll run for governor in 2011.
Byrd and at least one other building inspector gave depositions in that case, testifying about the conditions of the complex. City employees told the Daily Journal during a newspaper investigation last year that the property had severe sewage and mold problems, in addition to other issues.
Since then, the apartment complex made efforts to work with the city to improve conditions. It even hired a new manager and changed its name to President’s Gate.
But Byrd said problems remain and more than two dozen units still lack a certificate of occupancy, which is required before they can be rented.
Two stories from last year
Evergreen residents blame mold for health woes
By Emily LeCoz
TUPELO – Past and current residents of the Evergreen Square apartment complex blame its well-documented mold problem for their numerous illnesses and claim the entire property is a health hazard.
At least a half dozen families said their members have suffered chronic respiratory illnesses, asthma, sinus infections, allergies, vomiting or depression since moving into the apartment complex on Lawndale Drive.
According to mold tests done late last year by a national environmental laboratory testing service provider, PRO-LAB, apartments at Evergreen Square contained several strains of mold, including:
The owner of Evergreen Square, Ronald Von Kurnatowski Jr. of New Orleans-based Fountainbleau Management Services, said the mold has been cleaned up and claimed he’s unaware of any lingering issues.
But residents say otherwise.
Evergreen Square – Mold so hazardous to health – hazmat respirators worn by inspectors
By Emily LeCoz
“She complained enough to management to obtain a different unit – D33 – in June. But within days, the problems started there, too. So, Wimsatt said, she started complaining again. But instead of receiving help, she got an eviction notice.”
“At least a half dozen tenants told the Daily Journal that they live in mold-infested, bug-infested apartments with routine maintenance problems that are either ignored entirely or patched up inefficiently.”
“The owner of Evergreen Square, Ronald Von Kurnatowski Jr. of New Orleans-based Fountainbleau Management Services, denied those allegations. He said the situation there has been exaggerated by a handful of unruly tenants bent on attacking the current manager. They dislike her, he said, because she enforces the rules.”
“Von Kurnatowski also said he is unaware of any mold and claims the on-site maintenance crew fixes all problems efficiently and thoroughly.”
Although Evergreen Square apartment manager Shariah Gates refused to make an official statement on behalf of the complex, she did say all the residents who talked to the newspaper were being evicted. She also denied any of the currently occupied units had problems.
And last year, the city had to shut down four of the 16 apartment buildings in the complex after finding the mold to be so hazardous to human health that inspectors had to wear Hazmat respirators before entering some of the units.
Von Kurnatowski said he’s been disappointed in the city’s attitude toward his complex and that inspectors have unfairly targeted him.
Several tenants this month drew up a petition complaining about the poor conditions there and gathered about 45 signatures. But when the apartment manager found out about it, she wrote up those residents for “disturbing the peace,” and said it was a violation of their lease.
Political Action Committee – NAA – files Amicus Brief in mold case (two infant deaths in mold filled apt – Wasatch Prop Mgmt) citing US Chamber/ACOEM ‘litigation defense report’ to disclaim health effects of indoor mold & limit financial risk for industry
“Changes in construction methods have caused US buildings to become perfect petri dishes for mold and bacteria to flourish when water is added. Instead of warning the public and teaching physicians that the buildings were causing illness; in 2003 the US Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform, a think-tank, and a workers comp physician trade organization mass marketed an unscientific nonsequitor to the courts to disclaim the adverse health effects to stave off liability for financial stakeholders of moldy buildings. Although publicly exposed many times over the years, the deceit lingers in US courts to this very day.” Sharon Noonan Kramer
Information on Riverstone Residential knowingly exposing tenants to extreme amounts of mold toxins at Toxic Mold Infested Jefferson Lakes Apartments in Baton Rouge, Louisiana