RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Tenants in Richmond are preparing to flood their landlord’s phone lines in a protest to draw attention to poor conditions in the company’s sprawling Northside properties.
8News previously reported on conditions at Red Oak Apartments, which are now the focus of a push by tenants and the Richmond Tenants Defense Council to hold the owners accountable.
Black Mold and Broken Locks
Yasmine Terry lives in one of the dozens of buildings on Chamberlayne Avenue managed by Red Oak Apartments, whose signs can be seen throughout the neighborhoods north of Interstate 64.
She’s lived in her current apartment for four years, and says conditions have never been perfect, but that they’ve gotten worse under new, unresponsive management.
When she first moved in, the security lock on her exterior door — shared with four other units — was broken. She reached out to then-owners Zacharias Brothers, who had the lock repaired. It promptly broke again, and Terry said the requests she’s made to the new owners have gone completely unaddressed.
“When you call, nobody ever answers,” she said, adding that she frequently finds non-residents in the building. “I don’t know who they are, they’re sleeping in the stairwell.”
Another issue was the mold that blanketed the ceiling in her bathroom.
When Terry first reached out to Red Oaks, she sent them the same photo shown here. According to her, they were initially dismissive.
“They said, ‘That’s not mold, that’s mildew.'”
It was only months later, she said, that they sent a maintenance worker who entered her home unannounced when she wasn’t home and spray painted over the mold.
But, she added, the mold is still growing in her toilet, and the cosmetic fix has left the crumbling ceiling plaster unrepaired.
The apartments now managed by Red Oak were sold to the company — which does business as Ginter Park, LLC — just a few months after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ginter Park is owned by Boruch Fogel and registered to a residential address in New Jersey.
8News also followed up with Brianna Baird, a resident of another Red Oak property, who spoke out in December over neglected repairs at her own building.
Baird said that shortly after that report was published, the crumbling mortar under an upper-level balcony was patched and the door to an abandoned apartment on her floor was finally locked.
“Other than that, nothing’s been done, to be honest,” she said.
Just feet away from the new brickwork, Baird’s AC unit still stood, crumpled and wrapped in a trash bag as it has been for two years.
But, she added that she was able to present prior reports on conditions in the building in court, winning a judgment that reduced the amount she owed steeply and cleared the way for her application to a new apartment.
“I definitely appreciate them acknowledging the mistakes on their part,” she said.
Now, the Richmond Tenants Defense Council (RTDC) is calling on residents of Red Oak and other concerned Richmonders to tie up the company’s phone line to pressure them to address tenant concerns.
Yasmine Terry became aware of the planned “phone zap,” scheduled for Friday, Jan. 13, when she found a leaflet left by RTDC in the hallway of her building.
“Agitating property management through public pressure works. You don’t need to be a Red Oak tenant to participate in our day of action — if you believe that everyone is entitled to dignified housing, we encourage you to join us,” the RTDC wrote to 8News in a statement.
The flyer highlighted issues echoed by Baird and Terry, including inconsistent billing, broken AC units and ineffective pest control.
Terry said she plans on taking part in the demonstration in hopes of having her record cleared so she can move to a different apartment, “I just wanna know, what’s going on? Will we get any answers?”
The RTDC emphasized that while they were organizing Friday’s action, the push for better conditions was ultimately driven by the concerns of Red Oaks’ tenants.
“Tenants work hard or struggle on fixed incomes,” they wrote. “For them, Red Oak is home. But for the absentee landlord, Boruch Fogel, Red Oak isn’t home — it’s an income source.”
Baird also intends to take part in the “phone zap,” although she’s already planning to leave Red Oaks.
“It’s not to be malicious, it’s not to be nasty,” she said. But she added that she wants to push the company to hire residents of Red Oaks properties to man their offices.
“They know what needs to be done.”
8News has reached out to Red Oaks by phone and email, but has received no response to requests for comment.