‘Rust in the mold’: Renters in Charlotte call for accountability on apartment conditions

CHARLOTTE — Renters across Charlotte are speaking out after a Channel 9 investigation exposed appalling conditions at apartment complexes in our area.

Roaches, dirt, and damage on the property are just a few of the complaints from renters who say not enough is being done to solve the issues.

So Channel 9′s Almiya White started looking into why residents are being forced to live like this, and who should be held accountable.

We spoke to five different people from different apartment complexes across Charlotte.

They all shared similar stories and faced the shared reality that they didn’t see coming. What started off as small issues eventually turned into what these tenants are calling inhumane living conditions.

“It was small issues at first, like no racks in the closet and things like that,” Barnett said.

“I’d never seen a bed bug before now,” Cunningham said.

Now, they’re searching for accountability, with Barnett saying, “If we can pay our rent, they should be able to provide the service that they signed off on.”

‘Everything is deteriorating every day’

This conversation started last December, when a Channel 9 viewer living at Scarlet Pointe Apartments reached out to us.

That led to months of investigating, and Channel 9′s Almiya White uncovered numerous issues at the northwest Charlotte apartment complex, including missing fire extinguishers, broken mailboxes, and living conditions that some tenants told us were unbearable.

“To just stay in here is dangerous, because as you see, everything is deteriorating every day,” Latasha McelHaney told Channel 9 as she walked White through her apartment.

Inside her apartment were things like mold on doors and cabinets, bugs crawling across counters, and walls ripped apart.

Since that first report, emails have poured in from dozens of others saying they live in similar conditions at complexes across Charlotte.

“Seeing your article or your newscast on your place really gave me the courage to say it because I didn’t know everybody else was having these problems,” said one of her neighbors, Brenden Nachman.

A growing problem

It’s not just limited to one apartment complex. Brace said she moved to Hill Rock Estates in east Charlotte last June. Since then, she says she’s dealt with electrical issues, mold, and leaking water.

“This is from the ceiling in my bathroom when the water started leaking,” Brace said as she showed Almiya White the aftermath of the leak. “I actually came home from work, you could smell the smell like mold. And they expected me to take a shower in this.”

Cunningham currently lives at St. John’s Place, owned by Supportive Housing Communities, in northeast Charlotte.

“This is one of the bed bugs,” Cunningham said as he showed White. “We only live off my fixed income, so every month I have to spend a bulk of it to keep the bugs off.”

He walked us through his apartments and showed the concerning developments that he says led to health issues.

“The black mold started coming in every window, and there’s one, two, three, four windows -- and every one of those started protruding black,” said Cunningham. “We end up getting a respiratory infection.”

For Brittani Barnett, her home at Seigle Point Apartments has been plagued with mold after being untreated following bathroom work.

“This picture is my older children’s bathtub, they had to fix this tub like three or four times; it’s very dangerous. You can see where it’s cracking where they were trying to take the shower out,” Barnett said, showing White the issues that she’s documented. “This is where they had to tear out the baseboards because the mold spread to my daughter’s bathroom, to my closet, to my bathroom.

“This is the vent in the kitchen; you could see the rust in the mold just from how long it’s been there and gone untreated.”

And even two months after our first visit to Latasha McelHaney’s apartment, she said nothing has changed.

“Every time the upstairs neighbor washes their clothes, the water comes out of this hole where the black hole is, and it covers the floor,” she said. “You know, electricity and the water don’t mix at all.”

Nachman, McelHaney’s neighbor, said he spent the last four years in his apartment without heat.

“One of the biggest issues that we’ve dealt with is our absolute lack of a heater,” Nachman said while showing Channel 9 a space heater. “I shouldn’t be here right now, I shouldn’t be on TV, I should be at home with heat.”

Unlike McelHaney, Nachman’s heat was fixed within two weeks of our report sharing his story. But while one issue has been fixed, many others have not been.

Searching for accountability

We asked Cunningham after he showed us the bed bugs and mold: why did he stay?

“The reason I stayed [is] because I had to,” he said

“How many people can relate to [feeling like you] didn’t have anywhere else to go?” White asked the renters.

“I mean, I can’t even afford nowhere else in Charlotte, especially with my income that I have,” said Barnett. “I don’t even make $40,000 a year. It’s almost like you can’t afford to leave; it’s like in my situation, I can’t afford to stay, either.”

The issues have become so dire for these residents that they say they often reach into their own pockets to make repairs.

“We would have to keep like bleach in the house; I have to keep on buying bug spray, all that stuff and keep paying for it,” said Cunningham.

“We got brushes, we got bleach, and the issue with that was you know, having goggles on and the [personal protective equipment] that we had to worry about, that isn’t our responsibility,” Nachman said.

“So in that moment, you played the role of a maintenance guy?” White asked.

“Which we have continued to do,” Nachman said.

“Our conditions do not depend on how much we’re paying; we should be able to go home and be comfortable, have a safe place to be, and none of us have that.”

Not having that safe place has taken a toll on their physical, emotional, and mental health.

“What really broke my heart and what really affected me mentally and emotionally was to see my wife pull a bed bug out of her ear,” Cunningham said. “And she hit the floor and started crying, and there was nothing that I can do.”

“I want to go home and just be able to breathe,” Brace said. “At the end of the day, I’m at my wits’ end.”

“So what do you want to see happen now?” White asked.

“Something different. If we’re giving you all of this rent money, like hundreds of dollars we’re paying you, what are you doing with the money?” Barnett said. “We shouldn’t have to live as dangerously as we have been living. We just need a whole facelift.”

“You know, I put my pants on the same way y’all do, so I just want to be treated with respect as well, you know?” Brace said.

For many of these residents, they’ve been at their apartment complexes longer than the people who manage their apartments. These properties have had a higher turnover rate for management, and some residents tell Channel 9 that every few months, a new management company comes in to pick up the pieces from the previous one.

Channel 9 is continuing to push for answers and accountability, taking these renters’ concerns to city and county leaders to ensure they have a voice.

You can find housing help, including rental assistance and a county-by-county resource map, by clicking this link.

(WATCH: Apartment residents angry that visitors must pay for parking)

Almiya White

Almiya White, wsoctv.com

Almiya White is a reporter for WSOC-TV