Government Housing: A Reason To Shrug

Posted by DaveM49 7 years ago to Government
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I have for the past four years lived in an apartment building which is partially "subsidized". That is, 40% (I think) of the tenants pay reduced rent due to government subsidy. I moved here in the hope of becoming more or less "invisible" In this I have largely succeeded, though this place receives a lot of police attention because it is "low rent housing" (at least, less than half of it is).

I have been ill every winter at about this time for the past four years. I believed it was merely some seasonal factor (I'm at 47 degree latitude and the winter nights are quite long). In the past month I have discovered another likely reason.

The sewer vents on the roof of this three story building are blocked with ice and snow (I have photos). "Sewer gas" (hydrogen sulfide, methane, carbon dioxide, and other gases) is backing up into portions of the building. This was first noticed in early December when the smell was so strong a visitor thought we had a gas leak and called the fire department. They brought a "sniffer" and confirmed that "sewer gas" was the culprit. Several people called the office (which generally does not answer the phone), maintenance (ditto, and no voice mail) and emergency maintenance (the same). The only thing that was done was that a strong deodorizer was sprayed throughout the hallways.

I know of three people who are ill including myself. I have seen a doctor three times and had two courses of antibiotics and antiinflammatories, which had no effect. He has informed me that I show "symptoms of long-term exposure to an irritant" but has offered no suggestions as to how to deal with the problem.

At least two of us have continued reporting the matter to management and maintenance (I have also copied all of my complaints directly to the management company which owns this and around 70 other rental properties), with no response. I began calling regulatory agencies at the city, county, state, and federal level. As of this writing, I have contacted at least a dozen different agencies (all public housing or health related) and have been told that they have no jurisdiction over this place. None of them can tell me who does.

The only help I have gotten so far was from a city inspector who came out with a crew and checked the sewers outside the building, all of which are in working order. He said that he would speak to Maintenance again and that if they did nothing, he would speak to them a bit more strongly (noting that he has the authority to ticket them).

The following day, "maintenance" knocked at my door and informed me "we walked through here and we can't smell anything". When I left for work, I noticed the smell in the hallways again, and that no one had been up on the roof (no marks in the snow) and that the sewer vents/stacks were still blocked. When I returned home the place had been sprayed with deodorizer again.

We are looking at three days of extreme cold and heavy snow here. The vents will block up still further. I feel a bit like the passengers on the train going into the Taggart Tunnel, except that I am no looter. At least half of the tenants here are paying full rent. All of us have a lease, a contract, which guarantees that management will keep up on maintenance and maintain a healthy, "livable" environment here.

About the only alternative that seems left to me is to contact an attorney. What that will cost me out of pocket I do not know. Whether an attorney can bring enough pressure to bear on the owners of this place to get them to solve the problem I have no idea. And while I'm no moocher, I do have to wonder what over a month of ill health, with exposure to potentially fatal conditions, for the fourth year straight, might be worth in terms of compensation.

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  • Posted by Zenphamy 7 years ago
    Maybe some straightened our coat hangers, a few coffee cans. Go to the roof, open the vents with the coat hanger, fasten the up-ended coffee can to the vent with coat hangers. Take pictures and send to management and to Health Dept.

    Don't be sick anymore.
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    • Posted by 7 years ago
      I found at least one of the leaks and now have video footage of the gas pressure blowing a piece of paper off a drain on the floor above me. I cannot go onto the roof of the 3 story building and work on the vents, nor should I have to as per my lease.

      Have someone coming with a "sniffer" tomorrow and am taking other steps. Meanwhile, I may have located a house I can purchase which will have lower payments than my current rent.
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  • Posted by $ WillH 7 years ago
    Man, you gotta get out of there ASAP! You can check other apartments, listings in Craig's List, etc. Wherever you go you need to get out of there. Shrugging and living in obscurity is fine, but your life is no price to pay. To hell with calling anyone else. Take care of #1 and get out now!
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  • Posted by $ rockymountainpirate 7 years ago
    Move. It can't be the only apartment building in your town. Your health is at stake and it is your responsibility, so take action now. You can not wait for others to fix the problem because they obviously won't. Find a new place this weekend and give your 30 notice and go.
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    • Posted by 7 years ago
      It's not the only apartment building in town, but $549 a month is what I can afford for rent and that is what I pay here. There are similar places at about twice the price. I just don't have it.

      I should clarify the title of this thread a bit. I am not living in "government housing". This is a privately owned property at which around half of the tenants receive a subsidy toward their rent (in effect, the owners are looting). I'm not crazy about that, but it offered the amenities I wanted at a price I could afford.

      I had no idea it would come with health hazards and no willingness on the part of the owners to repair them. As I have said, it has taken four years to discover what the likely problem is.
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  • Posted by 7 years ago
    I am on a month to month lease at present.

    I hadn't thought of the city attorney's office--appreciate that. Getting material from the other people who are sick has been a problem. They are of the "someone ought to do something" mentality. Also hadn't thought of the City Council. I have thought of taking it to the media but have been concerned about possible backlash. My home state has a whistleblower law but I think we all know how much use those are.

    At the moment I have no immediate prospects for another place to live. Have the financial resources to move, but finding a healthier place to move could be problematic.

    Underlying all of this is that I should not have to leap through all of these hoops merely to have breathable air in my apartment.
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  • Posted by khalling 7 years ago
    I would first go to the Housing authority. Get testimonies form other tenants if you can. If the housing authority blows you off, threaten to go to the city attorneys office. organize tenants to show up at city council meetings. but first contact your city council member. Threaten the owners with taking it to the media. They love this kind of story. ultimately, I think you're going to want to get out of there and get the management to release your lease.
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  • Posted by 7 years ago
    Will add that since the fire department was here with a "sniffer", I have tried repeatedly to get someone else in here to confirm their results without any luck. This is a rural area. I'm not sure who might even have the equipment. I am acquainted with an environmental engineer. She and her husband are in Costa Rica for two weeks.

    The most frequent advice I have been given is to "open the windows". We have had low temperatures of -35 (fahrenheit) or colder several nights during the past week, and at least 10 days out of the past month, it has not gone above zero during the day. I have no desire to freeze, or to pay the inevitable heat bill cause by a lack of basic maintenance to the building.
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