NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) – The owner of a condemned Newport News apartment building appeared in court for the first time Friday.
When he took the stand, Seaview Lofts Apartments owner Ben Weinstein read a letter to the court in his own defense.
Weinstein said the building had been neglected long before he took it over, and he blamed the city for many of the problems. He said city inspectors keep “moving the goal post” when it comes to getting the building up to code. The judge did not like that, and reminded Weinstein that these problems are his responsibility.
The judge also said he is charging Mr. Weinstein a fine of $1000 per day so long as the safety issues are not fixed.
Those problems came to a head more than a month ago, when tenants were told to vacate the 15-story apartment building.
A Ten On Your Side investigation previously found that Weinstein was made aware of safety issues at the apartments shortly after he first purchased the property in 2020.
In court on Weinstein stated that he is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix the safety violations, including the broken elevators at the heart of the issue.
He mentioned contractor and supply chain issues. “I can’t just go to Walmart and buy elevator parts,” he said.
Weinstein said media attention and outside pressure has prevented some contractors form wanting to work on the building. Still, Weinstein asked the judge to lift the condemnation, stating there is “no clear or present danger.”
Instead, the judge expressed disappointment in Weinstein, calling his response “frustrating” and “disheartening.”
As he left court, Weinstein spoke briefly with WAVY and said the majority of the tenants were not paying rent before the condemnation. He wouldn’t clarify if they’re still paying or being charged rent. He did say that he understands the frustrations of his residents.
“We feel terrible for them and we’re trying to do everything we can. The city is going to be the one to ultimately let them back in. It’s not in our discretion,” Weinstein said.
Yesterday, 55 residents of the building filed a condensed lawsuit against Ben Weinstein and Seaview Lofts.
“Our goal is to let these people back into their home safely,” Bennett said.
The lawsuit alleges that Weinstein not only ignored the problems at the property but took rent money for himself that should have gone to repairs.
The lawsuit also details the experiences of some living in the apartments. Like John Towler, a 55-year-old disabled veteran who had both legs amputated.
Towler alleges that the elevators were out of service for an extended period of time in mid 2021 and early 2022, so he had to crawl up seven flights of stairs on his stomach and back to reach his apartment and get his insulin.
Gloria Parker, a disabled 75-year-old widow living at the Seaview Lofts says that she suffered a fall and health complications because of a water leak in her unit.
“Shortly after the fall, Ms. Parker started having difficulty breathing and ultimately was admitted to the hospital in November 2021 and stayed hospitalized with a variety of health issues until April 2022,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit also says that at least one person attempted suicide while living in the apartments under the unsafe conditions.
The next scheduled status hearing will take place on August 11.