Darlington received nearly 40 code violations in 5 years, records show

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The tenants, made up of grandparents and retirees, say they can't afford anywhere else.

When a code complaint regarding no hot water in a fourth floor unit was filed with Atlanta police on Thursday, it became the 24th complaint about The Darlington Apartments since April 2017.

Residents of the Darlington, one of the few apartment buildings in the area affordable for low-income residents, were notified in mid-August that they had 60 days to leave due to upcoming renovations at the cross-shaped brick building. Built in 1951 as the first high-rise in Atlanta after World War II, it is most widely known for its metro Atlanta population sign on Peachtree Road.

The building’s owners say they can’t fix all the problems in the old high-rise with people still living in the building, but residents worry that once out, they won’t be able to find affordable places to live in the area.

The deadline for residents to vacate, a decision made by building owners Varden Capital Properties, is rapidly approaching. But tenants have proven they're not going quietly. Days before the water issue was reported, they attended a rally led by the Housing Justice League at the 612-unit south Buckhead complex.

This week’s formal complaint is in line with gripes tenants have had about the building’s living conditions for years. Police records show 68 code complaints have been filed since January 2014; violations were found in 38 of the those cases. In 29, no violations were found, a status that sometimes indicates the tenant wasn’t there to let the inspector inside. One complaint was marked simply as closed.

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Darlington Apartments on Sept. 5, 2018.

Darlington Apartments on Sept. 5, 2018.
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Darlington Apartments on Sept. 5, 2018.

John Marti, VCP vice president of operations, said the code complaints demonstrate why large-scale renovations are necessary.

“The code violations, like no heat or no air, are the result of the infrastructure that has been failing since forever,” Marti told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Which is the reason we’re trying to vacate the property, so we can replace all that stuff.”

Infestations of bed bugs, rats or roaches, water leaks, mold and overflowing trash at the Darlington are among the violations noted by Atlanta Police Department's code enforcement division, which inspects residential and commercial properties. The most complaints filed in a month since 2014 — nine — came in May 2017, shortly after VCP took over. In media coverage about tenants' complaints of no hot water last year, Marti said a multi-million dollar renovation was coming to the "very distressed" property.

For the 160 or so residents still living in the building, the frustrations of having to move are compounded by spotty or no air conditioning and a freight elevator that hasn’t worked in years.

“We’re doing the best we can to fix things that are fixable,” said Marti. He referred an $8,000 temporary AC repair made last week.

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The Darlington Apartments on Sept. 5, 2018.

The Darlington Apartments on Sept. 5, 2018.
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The Darlington Apartments on Sept. 5, 2018.

After VCP purchased the building last year, management stopped renewing leases but continued to allow month-to-month agreements. Marti said tenants were told the boiler, chiller and plumbing systems would reach a “catastrophic failure” at some point, at which time the tenants would have to go.

"We've done a phenomenal job, I think, moving 450 some odd people off the project without a single complaint," said Marti, who is on the board of Open Doors Atlanta, a program created by real estate professionals to connect property owners with homeless people.

It’s the remaining portion of residents that needs assistance, he said.

It’s unclear what the rents will be post-renovations, or when they’ll be complete, Marti said. There is a federal requirement on the property that makes some of the units affordable, a Georgia Department of Community Affairs spokeswoman said.

VCP was founded in 2011 “with the objective of acquiring undervalued real estate, repositioning the asset and creating positive returns for its investors,” its website says. The Darlington, though, was bought as a long-term investment that may not be sold “anytime soon” because it will have to recoup the money being invested into it, Marti said.

Tenants must be moved out of the building by Oct. 16.

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Darlington Apartments

Darlington Apartments
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Darlington Apartments