NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — The City of Newport News will temporarily pay for the hotel rooms of tenants that must be out of their apartment building Friday.
Assistant City Manager Alan Archer shared the news with residents of the Seaview Loft Apartments shortly after 9 a.m. Friday morning, as he and other city officials arrived to help clear the 15-story building recently ordered condemned by a judge.
On Tuesday, a judge said the owners of the apartments had until Friday to correct safety issues they were notified of starting in April. As of Friday morning, Archer said the fixes had not been addressed.
“We are here today because we allowed the property manager every opportunity he could to address this situation. We are in this situation because of his neglect and our plan is to make sure those tenants that are at risk because of the landlords actions have safeguards in place and a place to immediately go,” Archer said.
Specifically, the city is covering the costs of hotels through July 6 for any resident that needs one. His words calmed fears of the many of the residents of the 135 unit building. Wednesday, those living in the 108 occupied units were told they had 48-hours to leave.
The owner of the property — the BlueRise Group out of Lakewood, New Jersey — contends the supply chain is partly to blame for the delays.
However they also owe the city about $70,000 in water bills. The city has filed 13 charges against the owner for the various code violations.
As of Friday at 5 p.m., the 15-story apartment high-rise had been completely vacated according to City Manager Cindy Rohlf. A locksmith had been called to secure the building as many left their belongings inside.
Rohlf said it was only possible with help from the Newport News Sheriff’s Office, department of human services, police department, fire department and codes department all helping to move residents out.
“Everybody that needed to provide support has been engaged,” Rahlf said. “We had the command vehicle down here so we had a place to operate from. We anticipate it will be a few days because there is still a lot we need to do to make sure the citizens are assisted. But at this point we’re comfortable everybody is either in their hotel rooms or are getting that room.”
When they will be able to return for good, if at all, is still unknown.
A Newport News Circuit Court judge said the city could revoke the condemnation if Seaview’s owners were to immediately fix the safety concerns.
In a letter sent by the Newport News Department of Codes Compliance, the director stated the Seaview Loft Apartments on 28th Street was deemed unsafe for occupancy per Virginia code.
At the heart of the issue are the apartment building’s elevators. Kim Lee, a spokesperson for the city, said the building has two, but one has been inoperable. The functioning elevator was only approved to operate temporarily and failed a safety test on Monday, leaving the building with no approved functioning elevators. The city says the building’s boiler also hasn’t been repaired.
The high-rise is owned by the BlueRise Group out of Lakewood, New Jersey. Their LLC purchased the property in 2020 for $9.3 million, according to property tax records.
Since April, the city has been in court over the safety concerns.
Kaitlin Baxter, an attorney with Newport News-based David Kemp and Frank, who is representing BlueRise, released a statement on behalf of BlueRise.
“Seaview has been working diligently to address the concerns that lead the city to issue this order to vacate and will continue to do so,” Seaview Apartments LLC said in a statement to 10 On Your Side. “Global supply chain complications have led to extended lead times on deliveries of necessary parts which has delayed the completion of the repairs. In addition, when working with complex machinery such as elevators, fixing one problem often leads to the discovery of other issues for which parts must then be ordered, further extending the timeline of repairs. Seaview appreciates the contracters [sic] at TK elevators who have diligently worked with us to make these repairs and continue to put in every effort to help us resolve the city’s concerns.”
With no resolution early Friday morning, residents were left scrambling to move their things out before city workers were set to enter the building around 9 a.m. — with some at the time still without a place to go. Several said they wouldn’t leave.
Tasha Gayle, a single mother of four, said early Friday they still hadn’t gotten a place to stay.
“So far, everything has failed, not just today, but since the day I got here it was a failure,” said Gayle with a bullhorn on Friday morning. “I was never prepared for this. It was so sudden … I don’t know where to go.”
Gayle, standing in front of a U-Haul, said she was going to stay outside the building until it can reopen.
“I don’t have anywhere to go, so no choice.”
Signs on cardboard taped on the building’s fence read “have a kind heart, let us keep our home!!!” and “a shelter a day keeps the homeless away!!”
Klalil Cribb of United We Stand of Hampton Roads came out Friday to support residents.
“Some people have families. Some people have you know you got elderly people. You have kids here. Some people really don’t have anywhere to go,” he said.
Cribb has supported tenants while they move out. He said he couldn’t sleep all night thinking about the tenants.
“It’s been bothering me since last night. I couldn’t even hardly sleep,” Cribb said.
He said the city needed to give residents vouchers to help them find a place to sleep at night, which they later did.
Seaview has also been ordered to appear in court on Friday, July 8 to review the compliance, and to state their case about why they shouldn’t be fined for failing to fix the issues.
10 On Your Side has filed a FOIA request for all code enforcement cases and notices of violations for the Seaview Lofts property, and is continuing to follow this story to push for answers.