Landlord, tenants spar over living conditions in Chesapeake - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Landlord, tenants spar over living conditions in Chesapeake

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The inspector from the WV State Fire Marshal's Office who visited the Cornerstone apartments on Friday said the landlord and on-site manager, Lee Christenbury, lied about the condition of several apartments.

A fire early Wednesday morning led fire investigators back to Venable Avenue.  The investigation is ongoing. While investigating, officials from the State Fire Marshal's Office discovered several apartments on the third floor had defunct smoke alarms and failed to meet fire code standards.

The inspector who visited the building on Friday tells 13NEWS he did not enter or search these apartments because Christenbury said the residents were not home. Upon searching these units on Wednesday, investigators said they discovered several were vacant.

Gerry Mills and Armina Tackett said they hate where they live.

Mills and Tackett live in Cornerstone Apartments in Chesapeake. Both said they've been victims of break-ins, harassment, and bug infestations.

Their gripes raise questions about what makes a place legally uninhabitable.

"I haven't been able to move," Tackett said. "I don't have the money to move."

They pay $350 per month to live in this apartment on Venable Avenue. Like several other tenants in the building, Tackett and Mills qualify for low-income housing. Tackett said she knows she's poor--but she expects more out of the building's managers. That's why she said she hasn't paid rent for several months.

"This has been going on forever," Tackett said. "But nobody says nothing because they're poor and they have to have somewhere to live. Why would I pay money to live in Hell?"

Landlord Lee Christenbury manages Cornerstone. She said she's tried to evict Tackett and Mills because they don't pay rent.

"I just want them to move and let peace come back to this building," Christenbury said. She adds that she's sent maintenance staff to help Tackett and Mills, but she claims they've refused help.

The building serves as a hotbed for crime, according to city officials.

In February, police arrested two men for trying to make meth in the apartment complex, according to officers with Chesapeake Police and West Virginia State Police.

"It's despicable," said Chief Jack Ice, with the Chesapeake Police Department. "Eighty to 90 percent of our problems come from there."

An inspector from the West Virginia State Fire Marshals' Office visited Cornerstone after the office received a complaint last week. Inspectors told 13NEWS they found two coding violations for lack of emergency lighting.

The inspector said he told managers to fix the lighting within the week, or face citations from Kanawha County Court.

Inspectors first visited Cornerstone in 2003 based on complaints about smoke detectors and a lack of emergency lighting, and then again in 2005 for similar reasons.

But other tenants said they live comfortably in Cornerstone.

One resident told 13NEWS she's lived at the building happily for six years and that maintenance readily repairs anything needing to be fixed.

Currently, the building faces no other violations and is not being considered for condemnation.

Mayor Damron Bradshaw said the building is under foreclosure. Christenbury said she did not know herself whether Cornerstone was sold or under new management.

"I just deposit the checks," she said.

The owner of the building could not be reached.

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