By Joel Hall
On the first of the month, Harbour Towne Apartments resident, Darrell Coe, said he paid the rent on his one-bedroom apartment in Building P, as he had done for nearly the past year. An employee of a cleaning service, Coe was planning on finding a new place to live in May, when his lease is up.
On March 9, he was informed that his, and nine other apartments in Building P, had been condemned because of safety hazards and that he had until March 15 to remove his things. The day before he rented a moving van to do so, his apartment was reportedly burglarized, according to Clayton County police.
"They stole a lot of my stuff ... my clothes, my TV, computers, rims ... at least $5,000 worth of stuff," Coe said. "They took one of my cleaning machines ... that was like $600. It's really an inconvenience. I have no place to go, other than staying with different friends."
On March 9, Clayton County Code Enforcement officials condemned half of the 20 apartments in Building P of the Harbour Towne Apartments in northwest Clayton County, following an incident March 6, when a 3-year-old girl reportedly broke through the bathroom floor of apartment P-2, and fell into a crawl space 11 feet below. The incident, and subsequent events, have left some residents of the complex ready to move, fearing their apartment may be condemned next.
On Monday, Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services and Clayton County Code Enforcement officials began the process of inspecting all 11 buildings in the Harbour Towne complex. Fire and Emergency Services Battalion Chief Landry Merkison said the county would inspect its way through more than 100 units, some occupied and some vacant, through the week's end.
"Any time we receive word of an incident like this, we do a thorough investigation," Merkison said. "We'll look at every building ... so that every problem can be addressed at one time. We just want to follow up and make sure these buildings are safe for the citizens. We realize this is hard on these residents, but we're doing this because people deserve a safe place to live. That's what they pay rent for."
On Monday morning, apartment staff members escorted code enforcement officers through apartments in the N and O buildings of the complex, and through Building Q on Monday afternoon. While officials found exposed wiring, mold, and some water damage in some of the units, Merkison said that upon initial inspection, the damage and code violations in the three buildings was "minor" compared to the structural problems in Building P.
"There were minor, cosmetic damages ... a little bit of water issues," Merkison said. "Nothing that would require us to condemn a unit. We hope that Building P was an isolated incident."
Montrel Clayton, a single father of three young boys and a resident of Harbour Towne Apartments for five months, said he's not waiting for the county to inspect the other buildings in the complex. The one and only security officer at the complex, Clayton said he is ready to relocate his family.
"If they condemn anymore buildings, they may condemn the whole complex," Clayton said. "I can't wait to see because I'm a single dad ... I can't be stuck in that kind of situation. I was actually trying to wait and see what would happen, but it doesn't look good. I'm going to try to move as quick as I can."
Clayton said the problems in the complex have been long-brewing, due to understaffing.
"We only have one maintenance guy out here and a little more than 100 units, so it's hard for him to get to all of these orders," Clayton said. "I'm the only courtesy officer and just trying to stop all of the break-ins is hard. I wouldn't put the blame on the management. With no help and no cooperation from the owner, it's really hard for her [Office Manager Peggy Brown] to meet everybody's expectations out here."
Harbour Towne management could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon, but Monday Properties Operations Manager Robert Prichard released a statement on behalf of the company, which owns the complex.
"Monday Properties has been made aware of certain code infractions at Harbour Towne Apartments. We are fully cooperating and working diligently with the Clayton County Codes [sic] Enforcement office to rectify these issues," the statement said. "Any resident in good standing that was displaced and desired to be relocated on our property has been relocated to other available apartments on site. Any resident who could not or did not want to relocate will be issued a prorated refund of March's rent as well as a refund of their security deposit."
Coe said the prorated refund only covers rent between March 9 -- the day part of Building P was condemned -- and March 31. He said the prorated refund and security deposit fall drastically short of compensating him for his troubles.
"It's [the condemnation is] a last-minute thing and people do not just have the money to up and move," Coe said. "They aren't even trying to compensate us. They should give us at least a few months' rent and enough to get somewhere else. Right now, I have no place to go."