For ten days, at least three tenants have had raw sewage surging out into their bathtubs and overflowing out of their toilets at the apartment complex Villas de las Colinas 2 on Buford Highway in Brookhaven. Tenants and advocates say neither the property manager nor the city has done anything to fix the plumbing problem.
36-year-old Luz Caranza has been struggling to live in her apartment with her five kids. The two bathtubs in her two bedroom apartment have been erupting with feces regularly. Her children and her haven’t been able to shower and since the toilets don’t flush, she says they either “hold it” or go to a neighbor’s place to use the bathroom.
School is out and her kids are all at home - wearing shoes in the house because the floors are wet from the overflow. Luz has been doing her best to disinfect the floors and the bathrooms, but she can’t keep pace with the regular sewage eruptions. Not only that, nothing she does can eliminate the smell that pervades the apartment. Luz works in construction, but has been missing work because she feels bad asking her sister in law to stay in her apartment to watch the kids.
She’s not the only one in this situation - two of her neighboring tenants on the ground floor of the building have also been struggling to contain similar problems in their bathrooms. They all have small children. A fourth family - who Luz said was also impacted - moved out on Tuesday. They couldn’t take it anymore.
All three tenants told me they have continued to pay rent, which is over $1500 a month, and still the property management company hasn’t done anything to fix the underlying plumbing problem.
Luz says she's complained to the property company many, many times. “Ellos no hacen nada. Absolutamente.” They don’t do anything. Not at all. Keylin Carcano, who lives in a neighboring apartment with her brother, husband and their four year old daughter, says she’s also called the property manager on numerous occasions, but they don’t answer. “No vienen. No contestan. Nada.” They don’t come. They don’t answer. Nothing.
“We have filed official complaints with property management. There’s been complaints filed with the city - code enforcement has been out here several times. Brookhaven PD has been out here several times. The fire department has been out here several times. And nothing has happened,” said Stephanie Coreas, executive director of Los Vecinos de Buford Highway, an advocacy group that has been supporting the families.
“Code enforcement can't go into the apartment unless they’re invited by the tenant. The tenants have invited code enforcement in however code enforcement has not gone in. They've always gone directly to speak with management. And of course management covers it up,” said Stephanie.
Both the property company - Strategic Management Partners - and Brookhaven’s office of Code Enforcement didn’t respond to requests for comments for this article.
On Tuesday night, Luz called the police, hoping they would do something. They couldn’t. Stephanie then called Dekalb County’s non-emergency number. The person who answered said they would send firefighters. Firefighters arrived within 30 minutes, but even they admitted the tenants needed a plumber - and a lawyer - not firefighters.
Landlord negligence and poor living conditions are not unusual for apartment complexes on Buford Highway, says Stephanie, who has helped connect the families with a lawyer. “This is an everyday occurrence…any one of them has any range of any of these issues - whether it’s people living without AC or no electricity…this is one of the worst. But, it happens every single day.”
Los Vecinos de Buford Highway has launched this gofundme for the families to support with potential relocation costs.
Luz has been looking for other apartments but she says there just aren’t enough available. Plus, she would need at least $5000 to secure another property, money she just doesn’t have. Until she’s able to move, or until the landlords make the property safe and clean, she, her children and her neighbors have few options but to remain in their homes, putting their health and well beings at risk.