Fulton DA plans crackdown on dangerous apartment complexes

July 15, 2022 Atlanta - Atlanta City Councilwoman Andrea Boone, who introduced the resolution urging a crackdown of negligent landlords, checks conditions of one of negligent apartment buildings at Vue at Harwell in Atlanta on Friday, July 15, 2022. The Atlanta City Council formally urged law enforcement officials to pursue charges against negligent apartment landlords, in response to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation into the issue. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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July 15, 2022 Atlanta - Atlanta City Councilwoman Andrea Boone, who introduced the resolution urging a crackdown of negligent landlords, checks conditions of one of negligent apartment buildings at Vue at Harwell in Atlanta on Friday, July 15, 2022. The Atlanta City Council formally urged law enforcement officials to pursue charges against negligent apartment landlords, in response to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation into the issue. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Prosecutors on Friday said they are planning a crackdown on Atlanta’s most dangerous and unhealthy apartment complexes.

Some of the work has already begun, prosecutors said during a meeting at Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ office.

Willis told Atlanta City Council members that she already has identified apartment complexes with the worst gang activity. Atlanta City Solicitor Raines Carter released a list of 43 properties with the highest number of crimes and housing code violations for poor living conditions.

Prosecutors may even take apartment complexes away from owners with the worst crime problems by using state forfeiture statutes on drugs, gangs and human trafficking, Willis said.

But to do this, she needs continued support from city council as her office goes into “war mode,” Willis cautioned.

This crackdown comes in response to “Dangerous Dwellings,” a year-long investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that found more than 250 apartment complexes in the Atlanta metro area were persistently dangerous, beset by violent crime and often horrific living conditions.

Tens of thousands of residents, including at least 13,000 children, live in these apartments in Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties. Many complexes are owned by private equity firms and other investment groups headquartered out of state.

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Atlanta City Councilwoman Andrea Boone, who introduced the council resolution urging a crackdown of negligent landlords, checks conditions at Vue at Harwell in Atlanta on Friday, July 15, 2022. The Atlanta City Council formally urged law enforcement officials to pursue charges against negligent apartment landlords, in response to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation into complexes beset by crime and housing code violations. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Atlanta City Councilwoman Andrea Boone, who introduced the council  resolution urging a crackdown of negligent landlords, checks conditions  at Vue at Harwell in Atlanta on Friday, July 15, 2022. The Atlanta City Council formally urged law enforcement officials to pursue charges against negligent apartment landlords, in response to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation into complexes beset by crime and housing code violations. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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Atlanta City Councilwoman Andrea Boone, who introduced the council resolution urging a crackdown of negligent landlords, checks conditions at Vue at Harwell in Atlanta on Friday, July 15, 2022. The Atlanta City Council formally urged law enforcement officials to pursue charges against negligent apartment landlords, in response to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation into complexes beset by crime and housing code violations. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Atlanta is the first area government to call for action in response to the series, and the first to begin coordinating a response. A resolution sponsored by City Councilwoman Andrea Boone and passed July 5 called for council members and other city officials to coordinate with the DA’s office to address the problem.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens did not attend the Friday meeting with Willis. But his spokesperson said the mayor asked the solicitor’s office to compile the list of troubled complexes. The solicitor prosecutes housing code enforcement cases.

“The mayor is fully engaged and has launched a whole of government approach to address the matter,” Michael Smith, a spokesman for Dickens, said in a text message Friday. Smith did not elaborate.

In recent years, city leaders have come under criticism as homicides and other violent crimes have climbed, a trend that is taking place in cities elsewhere in Georgia and across the country. Many of the national factors driving this spike may be beyond the city’s control.

But dangerous, violent and substandard apartments have troubled the city for years, council members noted at Friday’s meeting, and addressing them may remove a key threat to the lives and health of residents. Residents have complained about some of these apartments for more than a decade.

About 160 of the 250 persistently dangerous complexes identified by the Journal-Constitution accounted for one in every five homicides in metro Atlanta in recent years.

“As a city we are in peril,” Boone said during Friday’s meeting, pointing to a copy of one of the Journal-Constitution’s stories. After the meeting, she went to the Vue at Harwell, a notorious complex in her district, to talk with residents and spotlight the problem. The complex has been the site of six homicides since 2014, several sex crimes and other felonies, and it has racked up more than 120 code complaints, records show.

The city solicitor’s list contains a number of other apartment complexes where the Journal-Constitution found that violent crime and poor living conditions combine to make the properties all but uninhabitable.

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Unrepaired fire damage in fall 2021 at Pavilion Place apartments, 532 Cleveland Ave., Atlanta.

Credit: Alan Judd

Unrepaired fire damage in fall 2021 at Pavilion Place apartments, 532 Cleveland Ave., Atlanta.

Credit: Alan Judd

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Unrepaired fire damage in fall 2021 at Pavilion Place apartments, 532 Cleveland Ave., Atlanta.

Credit: Alan Judd

Credit: Alan Judd

Among them is Forest Cove in southeast Atlanta, the scene of 19 homicides since 2009. A judge has ordered the complex demolished, and the city is trying to find homes for the remaining residents. Forest Cove has 108 open housing-code cases, including 29 involving situations the city described as “highly hazardous.”

Officials also named three complexes featured in the Journal-Constitution’s series: The Hills at Greenbriar, formerly known as The Life at Greenbriar, on Campbellton Road in southwest Atlanta; Trestletree Village, near Grant Park, where residents contended with sewage spills and frequent violent crimes; and Pavilion Place, on Cleveland Avenue south of downtown.

Trestletree will undergo city inspections on Monday, officials said at the meeting.

The list also included five other properties belonging to Pavilion Place’s owner, Behzad Beroukhai, an investor from Beverly Hills, Calif., who has repeatedly failed to appear in court in Atlanta to answer criminal charges over unsafe, unsanitary conditions at his complexes.

Thirty-three of the complexes on the city’s list accounted for at least 123 homicides and hundreds of other violent crimes over the past 12 years, according to data from the Atlanta police.

Many properties have been sold multiple times in recent years, moving from one investment group to another as property values climb despite persistent violent crime and substandard living conditions.

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.