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The Voice of the Black Community

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Former Lake Arbor Apartments tenant turns frustration to activism
Organized residents to win $547,500 settlement
Published Monday, March 22, 2021 6:00 pm
by Herbert L. White

Former Lake Arbor Apartments resident Serita Russell led a class action lawsuit against the community's former owner and management that resulted in a $547,500 settlement

Serita Russell did more than complain about living conditions at Lake Arbor Apartments.

She organized her neighbors and forced concessions.

Russell and her fellow former residents reached a settlement on March 15 with apartment management and ownership, who agreed to pay $547,500. Russell, who lived at Lake Arbor for three years and helped organizing a tenant union, led a class action lawsuit against the owners for taking rent while ignoring multiple code violations.

“I feel that the settlement was fair and reasonable,” she said. “I’m glad that I had the opportunity to fight for all the tenants of Lake Arbor and get some type of equitable remedy.  I know this lawsuit will not bring closure to everyone who was affected by the adverse conditions we lived in at Lake Arbor, but it is a step in the right direction.”

The NC Justice Center, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, and Robinson Bradshaw law firm filed suit in 2019 against Lake Arbor’s former owners and property managers. The Superior Court complaint alleged that the apartment owners and management violated the city’s housing code and state consumer protection laws between 2015 and 2019 by seeking and collecting rent at the apartments, which were determined to have dangerous conditions.

The complaint alleged that the Lake Arbor Apartments owners’ and property managers’ actions violated North Carolina’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act, Unfair Debt Collections Act, and Residential Rental Agreements Act.

“Like many of my neighbors, we dealt with poor maintenance and repair issues that ranged in severity,” said Russell, who is an activist with Action NC’s Tenant Organizing Resource Center. “Some of the code violations that were found were electrical, plumbing, structural and even severe mold issues, which are not code violations but should be. There were hundreds, if not thousands of code violations.”

After the filing, Lake Arbor evicted all tenants rather than complete repairs. The defendants then sold the property to New York-based URS Capital Partners in April 2020.  

“Landlords and property managers are legally obligated to keep units in a fit and habitable condition and make timely repairs of all violations noted by local housing inspectors,” said Julian Wright, an attorney at Robinson Bradshaw.  “Continuing to collect rent while failing to make such repairs can itself violate the law, subjecting the landlords to the possibility of treble damages and attorneys’ fees.”

Russell isn’t finished. She wants to organize tenants to protect their rights against eviction and exploitation.

“There are many communities across Charlotte and North Carolina that deal with similar issues,” she said.

Action NC has established a Tenant Organizing hotline at (980) 443-3715 for tenants to talk to volunteers about their housing, resources and renters' rights.

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