NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — Tenants at a 15-story apartment building in Newport News were given two days’ notice to vacate after the building’s owners failed to correct safety issues they were notified of starting in April, the city says.
The Newport News Department of Codes Compliance sent a letter to the residents of the Seaview Loft Apartments on 28th Street on Tuesday, saying the 1973 building was deemed unsafe for occupancy based on 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 15-floor building with no approved functioning elevators. The city says the building’s boiler also hasn’t been repaired.
“Due to the owner’s, Seaview Apartments LLC, failure to correct safety issues with the property, the Newport News Circuit Court has ordered the building’s vacation within forty-eight hours of the date of this notice,” Harold Roach, director of the city’s department of codes compliance, wrote in the notice.
The city says it would revoke the condemnation if Seaview were to immediately fix the safety concerns. As of Thursday night, Lee said no reinspection had been requested.
“From what we understand from the property manager, parts needed for the elevator are not in and won’t be in for several more days,” Lee said.
Thursday afternoon, U-Hauls began to park in front of the building. Coming out of the door were couches, chairs and 82-year-old Carrie Young who for right now, just packed as much as she could in a suitcase.
“I’m going to stay with my friend for now. I guess I’ll come to get my furniture another time,” Young said.
The notice has caused panic for many living in the tower. Many are unsure of where they will go.
“Where the hell am I supposed to go?” said Tasha Gayle, a single mother of four who lives in the building. “I don’t have family here.”
Those who needed lodging assistance and other help were told to visit the Newport News Department of Human Services at West Avenue Library at 30th Street and West Avenue on Wednesday. Those unable to reach the library can go to nnva.gov/238/Human-Services.
Gayle said she took advantage of the service provided by the city but they haven’t found an opening as of yet.
“I’m stranded. I’m without a house, a home, somewhere I feel I could have been. Even though it wasn’t safe, it is somewhere where I could lay down,” Gayle said.
Gayle said she pays roughly $1,400 a month in rent for the multi-bedroom apartment in a building that has issues for some time.
“My outlets haven’t worked since I moved in,” Gayle said.
When it comes to the elevators, the city has been in and out of court with the owner since April on the matter.
Emergency mandatory injunction orders from the court have been sent to the building’s owners seven times dating back to April 18, court paperwork shows.
Owner, Seaview Apartments, LLC was given until 9 a.m. on Wednesday to work with service provider TKE to fix the issues, but repairs weren’t made and the building was condemned.
The LLC, which 10 On Your Side traced to BlueRise Group in Lakewood, New Jersey, purchased the 135-unit apartment tower in 2020 for $9.3 million, according to property tax records.
Tenants identified the landlord as Benjamin Weinstein who is listed as president of BlueRise. Multiple calls made to a number 10 On Your Side found for Weinstein were not returned.
Kaitlin Baxter, an attorney with Newport News-based David Kemp and Frank, who is representing Weinstein, said she could not comment on the case.
10 On Your Side obtained a checklist of items the building failed during its latest safety test. Among the failed items in the annual elevator inspection were:
- An out-of-date fire extinguisher
- A monthly fire service log that is not current
- Damaged travel cable
- No phone line or bell to use in emergencies
However, court documents revealed far more issues with the building.
In a complaint filed in April, an official with the Newport News Fire Marshall’s office cited the property for numerous violations of the Virginia Statewide Fire Prevention Code.
“During the April 18, 2022 inspection of the boiler room, the Fire Official observed
that the chimney was disconnected from its endcap and partially hanging into the boiler room,” the complaint said. “Operation of the boiler in this condition would result in the buildup
of unwanted gases, particularly carbon monoxide in the boiler room which could result in a fatal
poisoning incident, or even an explosion.”
He also cited that fire alarm system wasn’t functioning properly.
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.
Recent Google reviews show complaints about the elevator and old, young and disabled people having to climb multiple flights of stairs, as well as air conditioning issues.
State Del. Marcia Price, (D-Newport News) said this is a heartbreaking example of why laws need to be strengthened to hold landlords accountable.
“If you neglected a building and people have to get evicted because the building has to be condemned. You should be held liable for whatever costs are incurred to find them other places to stay,” Price said. Currently in Virginia, the landlord isn’t required to do anything.
10 On Your Side has filed a FOIA request for all code enforcement cases and notices of violations for the Seaview Lofts property.