Journalist’s Notepad: An Update on Serrano Apartments

The following appeared earlier this week in the ARLnow Press Club’s Early Morning Notes newsletter. Join the Press Club and help support more local stories in Arlington.

This week, County Council received another update from tenant advocates and landlord AHC, Inc. on the work being done to improve the physical conditions of Serrano apartments as well as their tenant-landlord relationship.

Seven months ago, residents released tales of rodents, mold and shoddy housekeeping they had endured for years. In the weeks that followed, the county council instituted regular updates from residents and affordable AHC nonprofit housing to keep tabs on the work being done to improve life in Serrano.

Both sides say physical conditions have improved. Inspections are complete, everyone has either returned to Serrano or a new life situation and AHC continues to see administrative changes after CEO Walter Webdale retires: two more retirements, six new members of the Board of Directors, including two resident AHC apartments and an ongoing search for CEOs.

“We have continued to make great progress with tenant advocates and residents,” said Susan Cunningham, AHC Interim CEO. “We continue to ensure that our households most affected by some maintenance issues in Serrano last year can be back in safe and comfortable homes. “

But tenants say trust is still lacking, especially when it comes to the insurance claims process AHC has put in place to reimburse residents for property damage caused by its negligence.

For claims settled without mediation, residents will accept one-third or less of what they estimated to be the dollar amount of property damage (which in most cases was less than $ 15,000), Elder Julio said. Basurto. He argued that the AHC, by undermining what residents claim to be owed, victimizes them again.

“[AHC] may be hiding behind adjusters. They tell residents, “If you don’t like it, go to mediation, go to court,” Basurto said. ” We ask you [the County Board] be involved to stop the re-traumatization, the re-victimization of these residents.

If the complaints issue cannot be resolved, tenants can choose mediation. But they need a lawyer. Both parties are doing it.

For a company like AHC, Cunningham says using a lawyer preserves the integrity of the process. But for the people Basurto represents, “doing law” means getting caught up in a process they may not have the means, fluency in English, the bandwidth or the legal status to do. .

During the meeting, County Council members spent some time analyzing these different dynamics. In the end, the members said there was really nothing they could do to change this legal process. What I learned from this conversation was that residents believe that the parameters of judicial mediation systematically disadvantage those seeking redress, and the County Council wanted to establish that the steps AHC was taking to correct the complaints. things could have unintended negative consequences.

This tension points to the lack of out-of-court mediation options for tenant-landlord disputes in Arlington County, an issue that ARLnow columnist Nicole Merlene first brought to my attention earlier this year. She spoke of the Tenant-Landlord Commission work to reestablish some kind of county-run out-of-court mediation process after the county was funded a year ago.

Although the county council cannot do anything to change the judicial mediation process, it is taking steps to provide a similar service. At the same meeting, it approved the use of $ 60,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funding for property monitoring and tenant support, including mediation service. Another relevant use of ARPA funds is the $ 300,000 for property assessments for affordable housing.

And while the county board members said they were sympathetic to the plight of the residents, they were careful to point out the boundaries the board must maintain – especially as Basurto called on them to stay involved. .

“We are very concerned and hopefully wish there was a resolution… We are in a place where the county is not involved in the legal tenant-landlord relationship. This does not relieve us of the concern as human beings and the role of leaders to want a fair and equitable resolution of the issues that you have raised, ”said Chairman of the Board, Matt de Ferranti.

Basurto told the board earlier in the meeting that residents who moved into hotels temporarily still had to pay rent and rent books were still not balanced for some residents due to a delayed rent assistance. de Ferranti told Cunningham he wanted to see progress on these issues by December.

About Ian Crawford

Check Also

My family owns a house shared between my father and his three siblings. He spent $100,000 on renovations and wants to buy out his siblings. What can he do?

There has been a property in our family for decades. It was actually divided into …