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‘Mice, bed bugs, roaches’: Small town apartment complexes in foreclosure, residents left in limbo

<i>KETV</i><br/>Driving down Iowa Highway 2
Driving down Iowa Highway 2

By Joey Safchik

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    CLARINDA, Iowa (KETV) — Driving down Iowa Highway 2, the Clarinda West apartments look like plenty of other rural complexes. Its beige paneled, brick-accented exterior is surrounded by dead grass, on which snow melts in late January. There are cars parked and other signs of life, like a pink children’s play car.

Looks can be deceiving. Inside, Anna Richardson shows KETV Newswatch 7 Investigates her mother Dianna’s first-floor apartment. Layers of white and gray duct tape keep a ventilation unit attached to the wall. A fire alarm hangs from the ceiling, wires exposed. The ceiling has leak scars. And there are bugs. Crawling over counters, creeping between cracks in the cabinets and hatching atop the refrigerator.

“Something needs to be done with this place. I mean, if I was the owner, I would not allow anybody to live in this place,” said Richardson, who used to live down the hall.

Richardson showed KETV Newswatch 7 Investigates text messages she sent to the building’s former property manager, asking for an exterminator to fumigate her mom’s place.

“Now, I will admit, I couldn’t pay my rent a couple of times because I took money out of our wallets to treat our apartments,” said Richardson, whose mother chimed in, saying they have “mice, bed bugs and roaches.”

Clarinda Mayor Craig Hill said Iowa’s Fire Marshal and the Page County Health Department noted as far back as last fall that improvements were needed to safety lights, doors and ventilation in the building.

“I don’t want anyone to live in a situation where they are not on-site or they don’t have a decent place to live,” said Hill.

Residents said building managers have ignored requests for improvements and repairs. The news for them gets worse; the building is in foreclosure.

“If I had to do it over again, I would never, never, never move into here,” said Richardson.

The paper trail, in this case, dates back three years. Residents of the 24-unit Clarinda West complex, and a 48-unit building across town, Timber Creek, received foreclosure notices last month. The Sheriff’s department delivered more than 100 pages of court documents to each unit. Many tenants wondered if they were losing their homes.

Hill assures residents that eviction is not imminent. However, the future is far from certain. Investment companies own the two buildings, but they have not been paying the bank. Narke Capital Timber Creek, LLC owes Bank of the West more than $1.4 million. Narke CWMV24, LLC and two individuals in Texas owe the bank more than $2.2 million. There are also defendants in North Carolina, Wyoming and Pennsylvania.

The deed holder for Clarinda West has an address listed for a West Omaha home; no one answered the door when KETV Newswatch 7 knocked.

Several tenants, including Richardson, say their rent payments were expected in cash. Additional fees, like garage access, could be paid via check. At this point, no one can say where that money went. Residents want the conditions in their Clarinda apartments addressed, before they pay February rent, which they are liable to present. Their question: to whom?

“They will continue to pay the rent. They will continue to have a place to live,” said Hill.

KETV Investigate’s calls to the apartment managers go unanswered. A foreclosure sale is likely months away.

Moving might not be the obvious answer. According to the Clarinda Chamber of Commerce, there are only eight apartment complexes in the area, and they might not be as affordable as Clarinda West or Timber Creek (Anna Richardson said her mom, who lives off Social Security, was paying less than $600 a month). Many have local jobs and do not want to move out of town.

“We don’t have a lot of social programs for that. We’re a small community, so there’s not a lot of those types of things,” said Hill.

The city also cannot afford to lose dozens of families. Hill hopes a new manager will purchase the properties. He said there have not been regular inspections of the buildings, but his office is exploring the legality of implementing those, perhaps through city ordinances.

Clarinda does not have a landlord registry, according to Hill.

“If we do not keep the population in our community, it’s going to affect us in an adverse way,” said Hill. “We need them to put their children in our schools. They shop locally.”

For Rciahrdson’s mother, however, it is too late. She found an apartment in the neighboring community of Shenandoah, saying it took almost “every penny” she had.

“It needs work, but it’s better than living here,” said Richardson.

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