In new downtown building, seniors live under the thumb of a strict manager 

Article Courtesy of The Tampa Bay Times

By Katherine Snow  

Published January 7, 2014

  

Under the rules, residents of Campbell Landings apartments must carry their dogs outside in strollers or a bag, never in their arms. Failure to do so could result in a legal notice to get rid of their pet within seven days. 
  
The temperature in each apartment must be kept at 78 degrees or lower. And the tenants, all low-income seniors, are told to clean any messes in the common-area bathroom with supplies under the sink. If it's deemed to be too dirty by the manager, she will lock it.

 

If someone's shoes make black marks on the hall floors, that person must clean them.

Potential rule-breakers are warned that there are cameras all around, and a "building watch committee" made up of hand-picked tenants will be looking for any missteps. As for the 10 smokers in the nonsmoking building, someone on each floor is assigned to monitor them. The rest of the residents, however, are repeatedly admonished for gossiping.

This 96-unit building is in St. Petersburg. The one in Florida, not Soviet-era Russia.

   
Part of a building boom that is bringing thousands of new residents to downtown, Campbell Landings sits just blocks from Bayfront Medical Center, at 365 6th St. S.

But behind the brightly lit sitting areas, the pot-luck parties, the community courtyard and other amenities, the manager rules with an emphasis on keeping the building clean and with page-long memos in call capital letters and regular threats of eviction.

"I've been bullied, intimidated, watched by people," said Tere Van Diest, a 66-year-old resident who loves her apartment but not the management. "I've never encountered anything like this. I have rented homes and apartments for more than 20 years."

Manager Patty Fuentes could not be reached for comment. Several residents interviewed Wednesday said they had no problem with her management style.

One of the building's owners, however, said some of her memos and the watch committee are extremely inappropriate. He was told about the situation after the Tampa Bay Times inquired about conditions in the building.

"We don't want a building managed that way. This is troubling to have that going on in what I think is a great building and a real success," said Bowen Arnold, a managing member of DDA Development, the property's owner and developer. "As the owner, we don't approve or sanction any of that. We want it to be run properly and we want people to feel comfortable with the management, not bullied."

Fuentes and her husband, who is the Campbell Landings maintenance manager, are employees of NDC Real Estate Management, a Pittsburgh-based company that manages 9,000 rental units in eight states.

"I've worked with this management company for 20 years. They have a great reputation," Arnold said. "I'm going to address this with (Fuentes') boss and with the senior management, and we are going to take appropriate measures."

Campbell Landings is home to about 130 residents who pay rent starting at about $280 a month. The developer was awarded federal tax credits to sell to investors to offset building costs and offer below-market rental rates.

At least two residents are working with Gulfcoast Legal Services, which offers free aid to income-eligible residents, in hopes of getting their leases renewed. They recently were told they would have to move, but they said they weren't given a reason. Gulfcoast attorney John Herbst said the tone in the manager's memos isn't unusual at senior housing properties.

"I've seen this before. Management ends up on a power trip. They treat (senior residents) like kindergartners in lassos," he said. "(Seniors) shouldn't have to put up with a lot of the stuff they put up with."

The manager "got mad one time and took the TV remote from the common area for about a month," said Chris von Obenauer. "She treats us like we are her employees, and we're always in trouble."

To save money, von Obenauer turns her air conditioning off or up high when she is out of the building. She said she often comes home to find her air on or turned down lower. Several residents said tenants on the watch committee have keys to apartments or common rooms.

Four other residents who were interviewed said they have no problems with the management and feel comfortable among a friendly group of neighbors.

"I love my apartment and I love my friends. There are a lot of rules, but that's okay," said Brenda Hart, 65.

After they moved in, residents were asked to sign a mold addendum to their leases. Among other things, they had to agree to avoid air drying dishes, not hang wet clothes to dry inside, keep closet doors ajar and water house plants outside the building, which doesn't have balconies.

Although the mold rules might seem demanding, they are common as a preventative measure at many other apartment complexes in the Tampa Bay area and around the country. Campbell Landings does not have mold problems, Arnold said.

Even as some residents complain about the building's management, they say they still like living there because they couldn't afford such a quality apartment and great location any other way.

"Some people just blow off all the memos and rules because they say, 'I don't want to get in trouble complaining,' " Van Diest said. "That's typical of older people."

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