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With water shutoff looming, tenants search for answers

By Kevin Canfield

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    TULSA, Oklahoma (Tulsa World) — Steven Bell came home from a work trip in early May and found a few things missing from his living room: the wall, the ceiling and the floor.

“It (the wall) was leaking through the rain and stuff, and there was water damage, so they said they were going to come replace it, and they have left it like this for almost three months,” Bell said Saturday.

Welcome to Vista Shadow Mountain Apartments, where the view is wretched.

Bell and his family were among approximately 50 tenants at the south Tulsa apartment complex who were notified June 2 that they needed to relocate by the end of the month because their units were deemed uninhabitable.

“We’ve lived here almost two years, so we have seen it go from owner to owner to owner to owner, and each one is getting worse and worse,” Bell said.

What exactly is going on at Vista Shadow Mountain is not as obvious as the awful condition of the apartments and the despair of those still living in them.

City records show that the apartment complex, 6000 S. Memorial Drive, has 600 units, about 30% of which are occupied. For myriad reasons, the number is dropping quickly and could hit zero soon.

The entire complex could be shut down if the property owner does not pay his $108,582 past due water bill by Thursday.

This has left tenants like Promise Bramlett scrambling to figure out what to do next.

“We are definitely moving because we are tired of all the drama,” Bramlett said.

Bramlett, who is expecting a baby in August, moved into a one-bedroom apartment at Vista Shadow Mountain in March. A month later, the sprinkler system in the apartment below her apartment broke, causing damage to her unit. So she moved to a studio apartment.

“They told us the end of July, early August, the new apartment would be ready,” Bramlett said. “We were more than happy to go ahead and wait it out and move just before the baby came.”

But Bramlett’s thinking changed last week when her studio apartment flooded during the heavy rains, and then came the second notice from the city that the complex had not paid its water bill. Not that the studio apartment was ever in great shape — it came with a massive hole in the bathroom door.

“I feel like they are not trying to keep people here,” Bramlett said. “I feel like they are trying to get everyone out for renovations or whatever … all of a sudden they called us and asked us if they wanted to break our lease because we were unhappy.”

Christen Powell and her boyfriend are raising five children in their apartment. For months, she said, the water supply has been hit or miss as workers tried to fix the system.

“When you have a family that is so big, you don’t think about how many times you need to flush a toilet in a day or how much water you use doing dishes, or how laundry can back up in just a few days,” Powell said. “… It is frustrating that they aren’t paying the water, because every month they charge us $61.50 for our water utilities. That is what it is for, it says so in our lease even.”

Stories like these — and the fact that the complex could lose its water within days — has drawn the attention of public officials and housing advocates. City Councilor Lori Decter Wright and District 79 Rep. Melissa Provenzano spent hours Saturday visiting with tenants and offering assistance.

“The reason I am here today is because I don’t think they (the property owner) see these folks as people,” Wright said. “These are Tulsans, these are our neighbors. And I think they just see them, you know, as … people who are paying rent on time in their portfolio.”

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