Code enforcement sweeps notorious Atlanta apartments

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Crackdown comes in the wake of AJC ‘Dangerous Dwellings’ investigation

Tajuanda Curry says living at Pavilion Place apartments has become unbearable for her and her two sons.

Rats scratch around in her walls and have chewed a hole under her kitchen sink. Her air conditioning unit has broken down repeatedly, causing her to spend hundreds of dollars on hotel rooms during hot summer months. Gunfire erupts outside so much, she took down the bunk beds for her sons, ages 5 and 6, and now has them sleep on a mattress set on the floor, in case a stray bullet pierces their window.

On Monday, Curry watched from her back balcony as more than a dozen inspectors from city code enforcement and the state fanned out across the notorious southwest Atlanta apartment complex, which was recently featured in “Dangerous Dwellings,” a year-long Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation that identified more than 250 local complexes with persistently dangerous conditions.

“Honey, I was praising the Lord, because that might light some fire under their behinds to do something,” Curry, 28, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution during the sweep. “These apartments are absolutely terrible.”

ExploreSpecial AJC investigation: Dangerous Dwellings: Unsafe. Unhealthy. Unlivable

After the AJC investigation was published, Atlanta City Council and Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis began planning a crackdown that would coordinate code enforcement, police, city solicitors and district attorneys to hold property owners accountable at the most dangerous apartment complexes across the city.

Personnel from those city agencies and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs knocked on doors at Pavilion Place on Monday, searching occupied units for code violations and inspecting vacant buildings that were open to intruders and the elements.

While tenants were glad that city officials brought a show of force to bear on Pavilion Place, at least tens of thousands of others live in complexes in Cobb, Clayton, DeKalb and Fulton counties that the Journal-Constitution also found to have persistently dangerous conditions, such as constant gunfire, repeat violent crime, rats, mold and raw sewage.

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Many are owned by private equity firms and other investment groups headquartered out of state. Often, they have been sold multiple times in recent years, moving from one investment group to another as rents climb and complex values skyrocket.

Whether Monday’s sweep will lead to a major cleanup at Pavilion Place is far from certain. The last time local officials tried a major crackdown on the complex’s owners was 2019. That sweep brought 100 code enforcement violation counts against owner Behzad Beroukhai, but the case stalled with no resolution.

The Beverly Hills, Calif. businessman, who holds ownership stakes in seven metro Atlanta apartment complexes, repeatedly failed to appear in Atlanta municipal court on housing code enforcement violations at Pavilion and other local complexes.

ExploreCrackdown on Atlanta apartments comes after years of fragmented approach to crime, squalor

Beroukhai did not respond to a request for comment on Monday. Atlanta police, which oversees the city’s code enforcement section, referred requests for information on the number of citations issued during the sweep to the city solicitor’s office.

Attempts to reach the solicitor’s office were unsuccessful. The state Department of Community Affairs said they worked with the city on Monday’s inspections and it could take up to two weeks for the state to coordinate their list of findings with the city.

“DCA’s next steps will be to send the findings to the owner,” the agency said in a statement. The owner will then have 45 days to address the issues, the statement said.

ExploreList and map: Where are the 43 apartment complexes identified as dangerous and unhealthy?

On Monday, as inspection teams walked the complex, apartment maintenance men in pickup trucks rushed to haul away discarded mattresses, sofas and a toilet bowl that had lay for days on the parking lot, near the dumpsters and on the complex’s weedy embankments.

Water thickened by urine and feces spilled from the toilet as maintenance men carried it away. It left a a foul-smelling slurry in front of a building that had burnt in a fire in October.

“It’s almost so strong you can taste it,” said Miyoshia Puryear, 33, who tiptoed around the mess to toss out her garbage in a nearby dumpster.

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Fellow tenant Danielle Russell doused the spill with bleach to stop the stench, while building and zoning inspectors posted four “stop work” one for each unit, on the burned building.

Repairs had been done without a permit, an Atlanta building inspector said. Beroukhai would have 10 to 15 days to get the proper permits or risk being cited and prosecuted in Atlanta municipal court.

Russell, 46, was featured in the Journal-Constitution’s investigation. On Monday, she was relieved that the sweep was taking place, and hoped that the new citations would lead to big changes.

She had been calling code enforcement, elected officials and state regulators about the complex since 2020, when she moved in, but while small repairs were made, a rat hole in the hallway has yet to be fixed. She has no smoke detector, and her hallway fire alarm goes off when there’s no fire.

Roaches still crawl across her pantry door, and she finds rat droppings stuck to the walls and floor.

“All this belongs to the roaches,” she said, gesturing towards her kitchen.

Curry, the young mother with two sons, said she reported her broken air conditioning to city code enforcement last year, but repairs only fixed the problem temporarily. Management finally replaced her unit this year, she said.

But her kitchen window has been broken since late 2020 and her bathtub doesn’t hold water. One time, gunfire broke out just outside her unit, and she had to drop to the ground, grab her boys, and crawl with them into the bathroom.

Curry, whose unit was not among those inspected Monday, said she plans to move out of Pavilion Place after her lease expires at the end of August.

“I will pay any amount to get out of here,” she said. “I’m trying to run as fast as I can.”

Dangerous Dwellings: An AJC investigation

As violent crime escalated in the city and its suburbs, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution sought to uncover why so many of them took place at certain apartment complexes.

Reporters embarked on a year-long effort which included collecting crime data from 15 area law enforcement agencies and code enforcement records from 19 jurisdictions. They also analyzed lawsuits, property records, corporate documents and files from local and state housing agencies. More than 250 persistently unsafe and unhealthy apartment complexes were identified.

The findings are detailed in a three-part series, Dangerous Dwellings, available free on AJC.com and the AJC ePaper.