ARLINGTON -- City code inspectors investigating a water leak complaint at an east Arlington apartment complex discovered more than 475 violations, including roaches, mold and some tenants living in units filled with trash and animal feces.
Arlington fire officials ordered one building at the La Joya Apartments on New York Avenue to be closed and the tenants relocated because of hazardous conditions, including several inches of standing water in some first-floor units and floor-to-ceiling mold growth.
"There were exposed wires the water was flowing over. I don't know how it hadn't started a fire yet," said Brian Daugherty, a code compliance supervisor. "It was a recipe for disaster."
Water has apparently been leaking for months in one unit, causing flooding in several vacant downstairs apartments, Daugherty said. When city officials arrived Oct. 31, they found water flowing out from beneath the front doors of some apartments.
"It had been flooded so long the vinyl tiles had peeled off the floor and were floating," Daugherty said.
Four tenants living in the upstairs units, which were not flooded, were immediately relocated, he said.
Deplorable conditions at the building with the water leak prompted the city on Nov. 1 to inspect six adjacent buildings, where hundreds of code violations were also found.
This week, the city plans to inspect the two remaining apartment buildings on the east side of New York Avenue and meet with the out-of-state owner on site to discuss how the code violations will be corrected, Daugherty said.
The owner, listed as Theodor Handson of Utah, did not return a phone call Friday seeking comment.
So far, Arlington has issued 25 citations for the 477 documented violations, which include graffiti, missing smoke detectors and unclean premises, but Daugherty said he expects that more tickets will be written.
Besides weekly inspections, the city is moving to have the water-damaged building declared a dangerous structure by the Municipal Court, a process that could take months.
"We are going to issue citations until we get movement toward getting things fixed," Daugherty said.
Councilwoman Lana Wolff, who represents east Arlington, said she would like to meet with the owner to learn why conditions at the complex have been allowed to deteriorate.
"I'd love to look the owner in the eye and just say 'Do you have any idea?' I don't think they do. It's just a deal on a piece of paper."
The city has a long history of dealing with problems at the property, which has changed hands many times, Wolff said.
Last year, the city threatened to shut off water there for nonpayment, she said.
In 2007, Arlington took the previous owners to court to force $500,000 in repairs for one fire-damaged unit, she added.
"I've reached the end of my patience with La Joya. It is time to address it," Wolff said.
The apartment buildings on the east side of New York Avenue, built in 1959, have had nine owners since 1988, according to the Tarrant Appraisal District. The buildings on the west side of New York, built in 1968, have had five owners since 1998.
Sue Phillips, longtime president of the community group East Arlington Renewal, said she also plans to seek out the property owner for answers.
"We have no idea what they are doing with the money collected. It appears they are not fixing the problems," Phillips said. "This is about human beings treating other people with decency and respect. Be responsible."
The La Joya Apartments were last inspected by the city in March. Violations found during the inspection, which covered only a small percentage of the apartments, were corrected, Daugherty said.
Wolff said she believes that the city should inspect a higher percentage of units at multifamily properties that are older like La Joya or have a history of code violations and criminal activity.
"There's got to be some level of scrutiny. We need to bump it up on another list," Wolff said. "If that means adding additional inspectors, so be it. It's not an empty warehouse. It is where people and babies are living. Let those people live in a safe environment."
Susan Schrock, 817-709-7578