The landlord at a soon-to-be-shuttered apartment complex was to be served a cease-and-desist letter Wednesday after attorneys say she was telling residents they could stay despite Salt Lake City fire officials deeming the space unsafe and ordering an evacuation.
“That’s interfering with a police and fire action,” confirmed city spokesman Matthew Rojas.
Carol Lunt, who oversees the Georgia Apartments near 200 East and 2100 South, could not be reached for comment. The complex was “red tagged” this week because of smoke alarms that don’t work and were not fixed after early warnings. Additionally, electrical wiring was not up to code and several sprinkler pipes were at risk of freezing — and bursting — because of broken windows on the buildings.
That combination, fire officials fear, could turn deadly.
Originally, the city’s fire marshal had given residents 72 hours to leave, with a deadline set for Thursday. That has been extended to Saturday at noon, Rojas said, though the complex will remain on 24-hour fire watch because of the pressing hazards.
The city is comfortable with the extension, the spokesman added, because residents in 30 of the 31 occupied units have spoken with social workers about their plans to move out; 24 of those units have immediate housing already secured. The remaining six are still working it out but are not expected to become homeless.
Rojas said the city has reached out to one unit that has not responded. “We’re not sure why,” he said.
Following the evacuation order on Monday, the Housing Outreach Center has coordinated with most residents on their plans, and the additional time, officials hope, will help more them to find permanent places to stay. The Other Side Academy, a nonprofit rehabilitation program for former inmates that runs a moving company, will provide free trucks and packing help for those leaving.
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said in a statement Wednesday that the residents are “having their lives uprooted because of the actions of their landlord.”
“This was a difficult decision to make, but our fire professionals will always prioritize the safety of all Salt Lake City residents above all else,” she added.
Numbers released earlier this week listed 42 units with 17 vacant; the city has since updated that to say only 11 were unoccupied.
The complex has faced complaints — for garbage piling up, a lack of hot water and drug paraphernalia found around the property — from residents since at least January 2018, according to health department inspection reports. But in each case the landlord addressed the issue — until more recently.
In the past month, investigators found that the fire escapes had not been certified as often as required and that exits were blocked by debris. The heating system didn’t work and the smoke detectors were broken and the wiring wasn’t up to city standards. Lunt also owes an unrelated $13,000 in delinquent fees to the city.
Additionally, last year, there were 647 calls for service to the apartment complex related to drug problems, fights and trespassing. The year before, there were 213, according to Salt Lake City police.
By 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, the city had prepared the cease and desist order for Lunt but had not been able to deliver it to her.
A private company has been contracted to watch the complex at all hours until the evacuation deadline. Security officers will walk through at least once an hour to check for signs of fire or other dangers and will call dispatch for backup.
“At least that way there’s an immediate means of reporting a fire,” said Salt Lake City Fire Department Capt. Adam Archuleta. “It’s just vigilance.”
Additionally, any residents who are not able to get all of their personal belongings out by Saturday will be allowed back in with an escort. Archuleta said the first concern is keeping everyone safe.
“We’re trying to make any reasonable — and beyond reasonable — accommodations to make sure that happens,” he added. “We understand the circumstances are out to the occupants’ control.”