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Elk Meadows Residents Share Stories of Disrepair

Visits by KPCW to six apartments at the Elk Meadows apartment complex on Kilby Road – and interviews with tenants who have lived there as long as 18 years – reveal poor health and safety conditions. This week, KPCW interviewed more than a dozen current and former tenants of Elk Meadows, which is the white apartment complex between I80 and Pinebrook. It’s classified as affordable housing, with rents calculated based on a percentage of tenants’ income.

Tenants opened their doors and allowed photographs of their homes because they say their living conditions are unacceptable and their apartment manager and property owner will not fix what's broken or falling apart. After years of decline coupled with steady rent increases, they say they’re at their wits’ end.

KPCW has verified tenant names and addresses, as well as their leases and eviction notices, but is not identifying them in order to protect their privacy.

One family pays $1437 in monthly rent for a two-bedroom unit after a recent increase of $56.

But their refrigerator does not work consistently. The fan on their stove is broken. The bathtub and shower in their only bathroom were recently removed, they believe to fix water damage. More than a week later, a replacement arrived but isn’t completely installed.

Their apartment is neat and tidy and filled with kids toys and other necessities of life. But there is visible mold on the walls. Window frames are rotted and crumbling and have holes open to the outside. The windows, one of which is right next to the baby’s crib, have no screens or blinds. The apartment has cockroaches.

As he gave a tour, 16-year-old Ricardo, the family’s eldest son, said their apartment is in better shape than their friends’ units.

“Up here, water clogged up and was making like a huge bubble and then it popped one day, we told the managers about it," Ricardo said. "They said, again, it's not important right now we'll deal with it later. They never did. So my dad got a piece of wood and he painted over it, he covered everything. I feel like we're a little better because of my dad fixing all the problems himself because he works in construction and painting. So he knows how to, but other people, they really don't know what to do. We have offered to help to them.”

Another family was evicted two months ago after 18 years in their apartment. Before moving, they cooked in a crock pot for two months because both their stove and oven were broken. Their rent had increased to $1656 per month for a three-bedroom - their eviction notice said they failed to report water damage and moisture issues.

But they say they did, and instead of repairs they got an eviction notice, which a Park City social worker told KPCW is standard practice there.

Another five-year resident of the complex pays $1437 a month for a two-bedroom. His oven is broken and only one stove burner works. The appliance is rusted, with no knobs for the burners and the oven handle falling off.

His bathroom floor is spongy, moisture apparently accumulating under the flooring. Mold spreads up from where the flooring and walls meet. Plumbing lines behind the toilet are rusted and decayed.

A mother of two who’s lived there eight years pays $1436 monthly for a two-bedroom but does not have a copy of her lease. Her apartment has broken interior doors, doorknobs and a shattered mirrored cabinet in her bathroom. She said she’s repeatedly requested repairs.

“She goes like every- three times a week. Everyone's worried, but they still ask," Ricardo explained. "Because like when they report, then the third day they come with the eviction notice.”  

Elk Meadows is owned by Security Properties, a five and a half billion dollar Seattle company that owns more than 25,000 multi-housing units across the country.

Jody Nolander, its regional director, said by email that Security Properties has invested more than $800,000 in Elk Meadows since buying it three years ago. She said the company would like to repair the broken items in the units KPCW visited and that tenants should submit a request for repairs.

Adults interviewed work as house and hotel cleaners, painters and laborers. None speak English. All expressed confusion and stress as they described efforts to get things fixed and communicate with the on-site manager, who does not speak Spanish or offer translation. Tenants’ children help translate, but the complex’s management office closes before tenants get home from work.

“(The tenant) doesn’t like how the manager treats this place; she doesn’t really care when we report damages," Ricardo said. "She recently fixed the stove (herself) because the manager denied fixing it or sending someone in. She just gets mad. We can’t be going every single time. She already knows about the problems. She just gets mad.”

All the windows in the units KPCW visited had crumbling frames, rotted, buckling seals and holes open to the outside in their metal frames. They’re single-pane and most had no coverings. Tenants pay for their own heating.

After inspecting Elk Meadows last year and denying its owners a business license due to extensive fire, health and safety code violations, Summit County inspectors returned this week to check on repairs Security Properties told the county it would make.

A crew of inspectors entered 106 units. Helen Strachan with the Summit County Attorney’s office said inspections went well, but she did not know whether Elk Meadows had passed its inspection, or what the next steps would be. County officials declined further comment.

All the windows in the six units KPCW visited had crumbling frames, rotted, buckling seals and holes open to the outside in their metal frames. They’re single-pane and most had no coverings. Tenants pay for their own heating.

In many states, renters can withhold a portion of rent if something essential is broken. That’s not the case in Utah, according to a recent report by the University of Utah’s Justice Lab.

That report says that under Utah’s Fit Premises Act, landlords must maintain electrical and plumbing services, appliances and common areas in a sanitary and habitable condition. But the statute also says renters may be evicted for not paying rent even if their units are not considered habitable, and that renters can’t sue landlords for not maintaining rentals in a habitable condition.

State Rep Kera Birkeland and State Senator Ron Winterton, whose districts include Elk Meadows, did not respond to requests for comment.

Everyone KPCW spoke to said they like the Elk Meadows community and the apartments’ proximity to schools, stores and bus lines. They don’t want to move, but can hardly bear the conditions.

“I would like for them to tear down the whole apartments and reconstruct all of them," Ricardo said. "They're messy. They don't take care of the maintenance issues. It’s hard to live in.”

He knows Elk Meadows well; he’s lived there since he was five years old.

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