Verdict expected on criminal charges for health and safety violations at Woodbridge Apartments

PHOENIX - Edelecia and Jeffrey moved into the Woodbridge Apartments in March and they say they are not surprised to learn that the city has designated it a slum property.

But that's not all the city has done.

The ABC15 Investigators have learned the city has filed 406 criminal counts because of what city prosecutors say is the poor condition of the Woodbridge Apartment Complex.

Two years ago city prosecutors filed a civil suit against the owner and won a $47,000 judgment.

That case is being appealed.

Now the city has gone to criminal court accusing the owner of jeopardizing the health and safety of residents.

The charges are misdemeanors and the case is in the hands of Judge Lori Metcalf.

The judge is expected to issue a verdict any day now.

Judge Metcalf could decide to fine the owner of the Woodbridge Apartments as much as $10,000,000 according to city officials.

Whatever the verdict is, Edelecia and Jeffrey say they want to get out of their lease. They don't feel safe.

Edelecia said, "It's like a nightmare we can't get out of."

They say they there is an empty unit next door. The window is broken and there is glass on the floor that has yet to be cleaned up. They say it isn't boarded up and there is no way of knowing who couple possibly be inside that unit.

But she says that's not even the most serious problem the couple faces.

She told ABC15, "I have asthma and so when the air was out and I tried to say something about it, it was like, I have asthma. I cannot be without air."

Deputy Director of the Phoenix Department of Neighborhoods Tim Boling says inspectors found that in the middle of the brutal heat of summer in the Valley many of the units at Woodbridge did not have air conditioning.

We asked how hot did it get in those units?

Boling said, "The temperature readings we had were pretty steadily around 93 or 94 degrees."

Court documents indicate one unit got as hot as 96 degrees.

Tim Boling said, "It makes it really difficult for kids to sleep at night. We heard from schools that the kids were having a problem in school because they weren't getting a good night's sleep".

That's a story Krista Roy knows all too well. She's the coordinator of logistics for the International Rescue Committee. Many of the residents of Woodbridge were refugees who fled from extreme persecution in war-torn countries. She helped many families get out of Woodbridge and find decent housing.

"It literally broke my heart, what I saw there,” she said.

Roy says she visited the complex and found dilapidated staircases that were just falling over.

She says residents told her about problems with bed bugs and roaches and rats.

And she says it was so hot inside some apartments that she couldn't stand being inside for more than two minutes.

Roy said, "As I was walking around talking to our clients and advising them of their rights and that they didn't have to live like this and we could help them--there was one particular family that came to me. He was a Bhutanese man and he brought over his daughter and lifted up the back of her shirt. She was completely covered in heat rash, completely covered."

An attorney representing the owner of Woodbridge told ABC15 Investigators that all the allegations have been challenged in court and the prosecution lacks merit. He said they do not believe the property is a slum.

The attorney said local property management is responsive to tenants’ concerns.

He told ABC15 Investigators that the criminal case the city filed against Woodbridge was retaliation for problems the apartment complex had with an air conditioning system that happened in July of 2012.

Deputy Director Tim Boling says this case is probably the most extreme resistance that he has encountered in the city's efforts to bring a property into compliance.

He said, "We have some individuals that are really not interested in bringing the property into compliance."

Krista Roy says it's all about educating people about their rights.

She said, "They're paying their rent. They should have air conditioning. They should have water. That's not too much to ask for--I mean, that's what you’re paying for."

The owner of Woodbridge owns four other apartment buildings in Phoenix and city officials say each one has been cited for violations in the past.

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