Suffolk picking up hotel room tabs for residents of arson-stricken apartments after landlord locks building

Suffolk

SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The City of Suffolk will be picking up the tab for hotel rooms so residents displaced from the Suffolk Tower Apartments have a place to stay at least four more nights.

The city made the announcement Thursday after the landlord announced they would no longer be paying for the rooms of the more than 100 people left without an apartment, nine days after a large fire.

Last week, officials charged 69-year-old Herbert Boothe with arson and sexual battery. Court records obtained by 10 On Your Side state that Boothe admitted to “lighting a chair on fire.”

Now residents are in limbo about what is next. Many say they are frustrated.

Suffolk Tower resident Kevin Henley wants to move his items out of the building. He also wants information about a security deposit. “We’re just out. Nobody cares that a lot of people are going to be out on the streets of the City of Suffolk.”

There is also confusion about the building’s status and livability.

In a statement, the city spokesperson said the apartment management refused to let city inspectors into the building.

Read the full statement from the city:

On Wednesday, July 21, 2021, City of Suffolk Community Development inspectors were at Suffolk Tower Apartments to check on the outstanding life safety issues that were previously noted last week and were denied entry by building management. 

It was previously determined following the fire on July 13, 2021, that a total of 27 apartment units were deemed unsafe and couldn’t be reoccupied due to unit door replacements and locks and no working smoke detectors.

The building has not been condemned.  The 27 specific units were deemed unsafe.  Since staff was denied entry, a placard was placed on the front and rear doors of the building noting the affected apartment units.

We have not been provided information from Alperin Law, the owners of the building, regarding the City of Suffolk’s inability to enter the building for the inspection, nor any information regarding tenant access.  Further, it is our understanding that the owners of the building will no longer be paying for hotel rooms for those that have been displaced effective Friday, July 23, 2021.

The City of Suffolk is working with faith-based community and local non-profits to secure short-term housing and assistance to affected residents while they transition to permanent housing.  

City Staff are also currently reaching out to local hotels to determine availability in order to assist those that have been impacted. 

The following are contact numbers that we would appreciate the media sharing so that affected individuals can leave a message for a return call:

Suffolk Department of Social Services In-Take:  514-7375

Cheryl Griffin, Sheltering Liaison:  304-2883

WAVY.com contacted the Alperin Law firm for clarification. Attorneys with the firm say the is building is not safe for residents and the apartment owners cannot pay for residents to live in the hotels after Friday.

This statement is from the Alperin Law attorney:

The law firm are the attorneys and the spokesperson for the building owner, Suffolk Tower Holdings LLC. The city has done multiple inspections since the fire. They were to get in yesterday to try and let people back in. They told the building superintendent that if the doors damaged in the fire and the smoke detectors were installed that the tenants could go back in.

The owners got their own electrical engineer to do an inspection to see if there was any visible damage to circuit breakers and electrical panels and make sure the building was safe for occupancy. The inspection was done on Tuesday and they received the report today. The report said the building was not safe for re-occupancy. The landlord paid for the hotels for the tenants out of their own pockets and they were not required to do so by law. They paid for the housing up until the point they realized that the building could not be re occupied. They reached out to the Red Cross, churches and other local charities to help tenants get housing.

The building is going to do a visual inspection. The engineer has determined that the building is unsafe due to damage to the electrical components. Suffolk Tower Apts. Holding has owned the building since 2006. They are going to try and get people back in the apartments to get their belongings safely.

Now city leaders are getting involved. Cheryl Griffin was asked to help residents as a liaison. “These people just weren’t expecting this at all. They thought they were going to be able to go back in. The manager has just pretty much just kind of shut down the place. They are not going to be allowed to go back in.”

Griffin is working with church pastors and organizations to help residents find housing. The city will allow them to stay in hotels until Tuesday. “They are going to pick up the tab for it. They are going to pay for it, but on a very short term.”

Henley says they will need help far beyond next week. “You have some good people in Suffolk Tower that don’t deserve this. We don’t deserve the treatment that we are getting.” 

Some residents plan to set up outside of the building Friday morning to try and removed their things from the building.

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