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FOX 8 Defenders: Almost a dozen code enforcement violations at The Willows

Updated: Jun. 2, 2022 at 10:01 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - After a surprise visit, code enforcement inspectors have found almost a dozen violations of city code at The Willows apartment complex in New Orleans East.

“Anytime we have a property where there’s a really serious public outcry, and we’re getting multiple complaints, that’s going to be a priority for us,” director of the city’s department of code enforcement, Thomas Mulligan says.

Public outcry, highlighted in our stories on the living conditions at The Willows, prompted city inspectors to show up last week. They found 10 violations across three buildings and four units. City records show the violations were for heating facilities, electrical system hazards, plumbing fixtures, and the list goes on.

“There was an improperly fenced pool, which is a very serious condition. It’s an imminent danger condition because of the danger to young children who might fall in,” Mulligan explained.

Not to mention the hole in Caroline Bailey’s ceiling.

FOX 8 Defenders: Residents complain of unsafe living conditions at The Willows
FOX 8 Defenders: Residents complain of unsafe living conditions at The Willows

“I tell them this all the time. I said ‘this is not fair. This is not fair. No one has to live like this,’” Bailey said through tears.

Mulligan says this is certainly not the first time his inspectors have been to The Willows, which is owned by a religious non-profit out of Tennessee.

“I will say they do seem to be one of the entities that has been a chronic problem,” Mulligan stated.

Mulligan says his department has had six or seven complaints about the property over the last few years.

“We’ve inspected each time,” he says. “We got guilty judgments in 2019. Got another guilty judgment in 2020. We had a case in June of last year that’s going to go to adjudication this year. There have been a number of incidents there.”

Property manager Candran Lemieux tried to tell us that the complex is up to code but that’s not what we found. City records show in October of 2020, the owner of The Willows, Global Ministries Foundation, was found guilty of eight violations and ordered to pay nearly $900 in fines. The money was never paid.

“I’m not aware of that and whenever there were fines that came up, Candran was the manager,” CEO Dr. Richard Hamlet says. “I know of two other times we had some fines, some things that we paid over the COVID years. I’m not aware there is a balance. If there is a balance, there will be a check cut today because I’m not aware that there’s a balance owed.”

A week after we spoke to Hamlet, the fines still haven’t been paid. Global Ministries also owns part of another apartment complex in Orleans Parish, Parc Fontaine in Algiers. A city spokesperson says Global Ministries owns two of the buildings and many condo units. A picture of the site is featured on the PAC Housing Group’s website, which oversees both The Willows and Parc Fontaine. Parc Fontaine has also been cited a number of times by code enforcement for violations.

“It’s the same kind of story. Probably eight or nine cases... complaints we’ve received in the past few years,” Mulligan said.

So how does a property get cited over and over again for violations with residents seeing little change?

“It’s already hard enough to go after these out-of-town owners, but the first step has to be really aggressive code enforcement action and documentation,” City Council President Helena Moreno weighed in.

“In cases of chronic re-offenders, we try to be as aggressive as possible. I do think ultimately the solution to these issues has to be holistic,” Mulligan says.

For property owners who skirt fines or don’t show up to hearings, Mulligan says more serious fines and penalties will be pursued.

Mulligan says his department will stay vigilant with these two sites, as residents tell us they are starting to see some progress after we highlighted the problems at The Willows.

“Parc Fontaine has an open case. The Willows has an open case. We’re going to be bringing to adjudication probably within a month or two so we’re certainly on top of these two properties,” Mulligan stated.

Hamlet says the pandemic and Hurricane Ida greatly affected their ability to get workers to The Willows to make necessary renovations.

Mulligan says it’s so important for city residents to call 311 if they have an issue with the property where they live. That way, code enforcement can get involved to inspect the site and get to work identifying the owner to hold them responsible.

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