It’s a complaint reported by apartment dwellers across North Texas from time to time: They have a broken elevator that isn’t being fixed.
Fed-up tenants at an Uptown Dallas apartment complex are making their fight for a fix public.
You will see the signs on the windows and a large white banner hanging off a resident’s balcony at Lofts at the Sawyer, located on the corner of McKinney Avenue and Blackburn Street in Uptown.
It is not a ‘now leasing’ promotion, but rather an outcry.
“I think it’s helping,” said tenant Audrey Tolbert looking up at the banner with black lettering reading: OUR ELEVATOR HAS BEEN BROKEN 4 MONTHS! “People take pictures when they’re driving by, so I think it’s really going to help spread awareness about what’s going on here.”
Those who live in the building along McKinney Avenue said they have been without a working elevator not for a week or even a month.
“Four months,” said tenant Lindsay Smith. “Four months. Yeah, it’s crazy.”
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Residents have been forced to take the stairs up to their floors, some all the way up to the fifth floor.
Another option is to walk into the adjacent building, take the elevator up to the second floor, walk outside across the swimming pool, into their building, and up the stairwell.
“There is no stair-free way to access your unit,” said Smith. “It’s like a labyrinth.”
While the one elevator in the Lofts at Sawyer is indeed operational, its inspection is expired, according to the state.
Annual elevator inspections are required through the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.
A spokesperson for the TDLR told NBC 5 both elevators at the Lofts at Sawyer are ‘overdue for inspections.’
‘On June 2, 2021, we sent the property manager a notice that the elevators were overdue for an inspection, and we have not received the required reports, documentation and fees,’ according to TDLR which goes on to state: ‘Failure to have equipment inspected annually is a Class C violation of the Department’s elevator rules. The administrative penalty for a first violation ranges from $1,000 to $5,000 per occurrence.’
The agency is not aware whether a case has been filed against the property owner, which also presents a unique challenge in the situation facing tenants.
Up until Monday, Nov. 8, the property had been owned by RangeWater Real Estate based in Atlanta.
Lofts at the Sawyer are now owned by Weidner Apartment Homes based in Kirkland, Washington.
Carl Simpson, code compliance director for the city of Dallas, told NBC 5 he spoke with the property manager who said a state inspector shut down the elevator, citing repairs were not up to par. The manager states before they could ‘bid out’ additional repairs to satisfy an inspection the property had to change ownership, which happened Monday.
Smith said pleas from residents for updates and a fix have gone unanswered by their previous management company.
“It feels disrespectful, and it feels like they’re not holding up their end of the bargain,” she said. “We’re paying rent on time, premium rent, and we feel they’re ignoring us.”
NBC 5 reached out to LegalAid of Northwest Texas, which is not associated with this incident, to find out what rights tenants have in situations like this.
Supervising attorney Farwah Raza is not associated with the issue facing these tenants, but asked for her initial reaction to the case, Raza said: “You have residents who may be ill-informed about their rights, is really what I’m thinking about because yes, four months is a tremendously long time.”
Speaking only in general terms, Raza said it’s important for tenants to read their lease closely and write a letter to property management demanding ‘repair and remedy’ under property code.
“Your rights don’t trigger until you submit a written request for it,” said Raza. “You typically want to have that happen and then that gets you before a judge.”
Broken down elevators should not be reported with a ‘maintenance request.’ This is a legal issue, not a maintenance issue, she said.
Raza urged any tenants facing the same issue to seek out their agency's help and by sending in two written requests or one certified letter through the Post Office.
“That basically initiates your rights, and you have to give them deadlines,” she said. “The landlord needs to respond back, and they may not respond back and then you have to go ahead and file a petition in your local justice of the peace court for a repair remedy.”
Then there’s the question about the Americans with Disabilities Act that could come into play.
“If there’s disabilities that exist, you definitely want to be looking at the ADA, asking for reasonable accommodations under the FHA and ADA,” said Raza.
Tenant Tolbert said she has an autoimmune condition that makes it difficult to walk at times and that she reported to management.
“Some days I’m fine, but other days I wake up and I don’t want to move, and it hurts to walk,” she said.
Smith said she has not heard whether any of her neighbors have physical disabilities that prevent them from taking the stairs, but said it affects loved ones.
“My father is 82-years-old. He can’t visit me in my unit,” said Smith. “He can’t climb four flights of stairs.”
Tolbert also said the inoperable elevator has made moving out challenging for some neighbors.
“The baseline for movers goes up when you don’t have a functional elevator, especially if you’re on the fifth floor,” she said.
Weidner Apartment Homes’ Vice President of Government Affairs Greg Cerbana told NBC 5 it is a "top priority" for the company to complete repairs on both elevators at the Lofts at Sawyer.
Cerbana said they were aware of "ongoing challenges" with the elevators in the course of the acquisition of the property but were unable to do anything until the deal was officially closed on Monday.
He said they already have "contracts drawn up" with a repair company but could not provide a date for the start of the big undertaking. Some of the potential new challenges could surround supply chain shortages and delays.
The work to repair and modernize both elevators will take eight to 12 weeks and cost the company approximately $600,000, said Cerbana.
Weidner Apartment Homes has been active in West Texas for 30 years. This is the company’s first property in Dallas.
“We’re excited to be there,” said Cerbana. “It’s a great property.”
With no relief in clear sight, desperate tenants hope their silent protest is heard.
“People are really upset, and we want some answers, and we want some empathy,” said Smith. “We just want a working elevator.”