DeKALB – Pastor Joe Mitchell called the living conditions in the Ridgebrook Apartment complex “a disgrace before God” in an impassioned speech during a Wednesday news conference after a fire in the building displaced 140 people.
Authorities say mattresses were lit on fire about 11 p.m. Tuesday at 808 Ridge Drive, causing residents to leap from third-floor windows and displacing all
140 people in the building, which was condemned.
City Manager Bill Nicklas said attorney Clay Campbell was in court representing Hunter Properties about a month ago when DeKalb County Judge William Brady ruled Hunter Properties needed to pay $113,000 in fines for 414 code violations. The fines were paid within 10 days of the ruling, Nicklas said, and included violations related to plumbing, electrical wiring and fire safety.
Multiple residents interviewed Wednesday, including Shania Maffengaffe and Debbie Bogacki, said the locks and entrances into the 808 Ridge Drive building have not worked for months.
“The door that I use every day, the lock is broken and they never bothered to fix it,” Bogacki said. “People just prop it open all day long.”
Campbell said Wednesday he was not aware of any locks in the building that did not work. DeKalb Fire Chief Jeff McMaster said he would need to check with crews first on the scene to see if they had to force entry or were able to access the unlocked building, but did not know as of Thursday.
Campbell said he has been working with Nicklas, as well as McMaster and interim Police Chief John Petragallo after a June 26 arson occurred in the
808 Ridge Drive building and law enforcement officials discovered that the security cameras did not work at the time. Nicklas said after the June 26 arson he ordered Hunter Properties to install working cameras in an attempt to stop the recurring fires.
After a pair of suspicious fires were extinguished by residents this June, Nicklas said he ordered a fire watch in the building, where fire officials will periodically walk the halls of the building to keep an eye out for arsonists.
Nicklas also said he “laid down the law” and told Hunter Properties they would have to either invest in private security for the building, install working security cameras or reimburse the city for the fire watch personnel. Nicklas praised Campbell’s influence in working with Hunter Properties manager Tiffany Meadows, who he said has been uncooperative.
“But an attorney can’t control his clients, can’t keep the place clean, fire safe,” Nicklas said. “And until that management is able to deliver those, we are not going to rest, we are not going to be satisfied. We are tired of this shameful condition in our community.”
“My concern is for people, and the way people are living in 808 Ridge Drive is a disgrace before God,” said Mitchell, pastor at New Hope Baptist Church in DeKalb. He recently went into the apartment to help a member of his church. “What I witnessed and saw with my own eyes is not any way for a human to live. The odors, the smells, the lack of security is not how people should live.”
During a tour of several Hunter Properties-owned buildings in March, locks to gates and front doors were seen broken, and interior conditions in several buildings showed poor upkeep. Tenants rallied together shortly after to form the Hunter Properties Tenant Association in an attempt to advocate for change with management.
Campbell said it’s not easy maintaining property in high-crime areas.
“You have an area of the community with lots of vandalism and crime,” Campbell said. “We’ve put up camera systems that have been torn down, spray painted, fire extinguishers that have been stolen, smoke detectors that have been torn off the walls. When you’re trying to operate properties in areas like this, that’s an ongoing challenge.”