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Water Damage, Plumbing Leaks, and Safety Issues Plague AHF Housing

Many “high” severity violations cited by city inspectors.

A sign reads "Baltimore Hotel."
The Baltimore’s sign that juts out over the sidewalk on Los Angeles St.(Photo: Erik Adams | Cal State LA)

This story is part of Housing Hazards, an investigation into low-income apartment buildings owned by the nonprofit group AIDS Healthcare Foundation and its housing arm.

The story is based on interviews with more than four dozen former and current low-income housing residents and employees, and an analysis of calls to police, photos, inspection and court records, and security footage from the buildings.
It was edited by Knock LA with reporting from Cal State LA’s UT Community News students and their professor.

Content warning: This project includes descriptions and content that includes violence
. Please exercise self-care before choosing to view the story.

More than two dozen residents interviewed in Aids Healthcare Foundation (AHF) low-income housing alleged they have experienced broken and leaky plumbing in their rooms, which at times has resulted in long-term water damage and flooding. A few of these units tested positively for mold.

An analysis of city inspection data collected from five AHF buildings found that 33 of the 912 inspections with violations reported were for problems related to water temperature and blocked drains, and another 95 dealt with plumbing problems, bathroom ventilation, leaks, and broken or loose shower, bath or sink fixtures. Multiple inspections over the same issue were noted for some units.

Pipes jut out of the ceiling of a laundry room. Black flecks that look like mold surround the pipes.
Black spots that look like mold on the wall and ceiling of the laundry room at the King Edward hotel on March 1, 2023. (Photo: Denis Akbari | Cal State LA)

Several residents of the King Edward said there are water leaks in the building. Resident Holly Stevens, who lives on the third floor, alleged that water often pours heavily or drips down from the ceiling of the floor’s shared bathroom, worrying her about damage and possible mold growth inside the walls. 

“There are blind people and seniors that live here,” Stevens said. “What can a senior person that is blind or that can hardly walk do with a sheet of water coming down?”

Madison Hotel residents alleged that multiple flooding incidents have occurred as a result of the building’s old pipes and other infrastructure.

Edwin Linwood, who has lived at the Madison Hotel for nine years, said that water gushed through several floors “like Niagara Falls” during a 2021 flood. Several residents confirmed the incident, and videos from attorney Annette Harings show water gushing from the elevator and stairs.

Water drips down the elevator in late 2021 at the Madison. (Videos courtesy of Annette Harings)

Mold was also found in four units and two restrooms at the Madison, according to January 2022 mold tests that Harings ordered. Residents claimed that the mold created an awful odor. One of the units with mold was occupied by Annette Turner, who said she repeatedly asked AHF for help after her room flooded, according to court records and a recent interview. She noted that the delayed response led to mold festering on the walls.

In March 2022, a city inspector identified water trapped beneath the floor, peeling paint on the walls, and dampness on baseboards of Turner’s former room. In April 2022, in another room on the first floor, an inspector noted a “black substance on walls, floorboards, and miscellaneous items.

Turner said she is now homeless, alternating between a trailer and a motel room near Leimert Park.

“It was so filthy, I couldn’t wait to get out of there… I would never go back. I would rather be homeless than go back there,” said Turner, who is suing AHF.

As residents were dealing with water issues related to a January 2022 flooding incident, Linwood said AHF leaders were outside the building announcing the launch of another location.

In interviews and in court records, more than a dozen other Madison residents described issues related to leaky plumbing, flooding, and water damage. For instance, James Conners alleged in court records from February 2020 that his room flooded three times: “For two months, I did not have lights in my unit because of the flood.”

A handful of Baltimore residents have reported similar problems with leaks, adding that they buy bottled water because of what they say is poor water quality from the old pipes. Residents described a flooding incident related to a communal shower a few years ago. Water covered the hallway and leaked into units on the fourth floor, they alleged.

Last year, a broken pipe in the wall drenched the floors on the fifth floor of the Baltimore, resident Carlos Brum said. “It fried the circuitry” and left bubbles on one wall of his room, he alleged.

Building visitors can see that the same part of the wall has been cut out and replaced on the second, third, and fourth floors. Tamara Hope’s apartment is behind that part of the wall on the third floor.

She said she suspects water trapped under the floorboards for months led to mold, making it hard to breathe in her room.

“There was water in my closet. Shit was floating in my room,” she said, holding up a black substance in the tweezers she scraped between her floorboards. “A tent is cleaner than this.”

An AHF attorney declined to comment and has not responded to specific allegations and questions. LA city officials declined to comment but provided records showing violations in five buildings in recent years that resulted in hearings for AHF after it missed deadlines for fixing them.

High Severity Violations Can Put Residents at Risk

While most AHF buildings do not have air conditioning, residents also alleged that many of their units do not have working heat, issues which they say are exacerbated by old windows that are leaky and hard to open. Additionally, problems with electricity prevent residents from using space heaters or fans they’ve purchased.

An analysis of inspection data obtained for the King Edward, the Baltimore, the Madison, the Whitley, and Cypress Arms between mid-2018 to mid-2022 found that there were more than 70 instances noting issues with doors and windows.

Some had broken locks or were easily opened, while others were simply jammed or had broken frames. In the Baltimore, Brum and others are part of a class-action lawsuit over, among other things, about 60 apartment doors in the building that don’t have deadbolts required by state law for resident safety.

The analysis of city inspection data also found 912 violations, including 249 that were considered “high” in severity. A portion of these violations are repeated offenses, often in units that were never fixed by the time a re-inspection was done. Some of the problems include:

  • After certificate of occupancy issues, the second most common violations were for smoke detectors that were missing, not working, or low on battery. With 78 total violations, issues with smoke detectors constituted the largest portion of the “high severity” violations.
  • Another 55 high severity violations for missing or improper fire doors were also reported.
  • Additional high severity violations included about 35 reports related to outlet and switch safety and 13 reports of unapproved electrical work. Over 40 less serious violations were issued regarding electrical items and heating appliances.

Two Baltimore residents said faulty wiring allegedly started fires in their room. John Carter, a Baltimore building resident, said his room broke out in flames due to a “socket” issue while he was on another floor.

“We heard the fire alarm but it always goes off, so we don’t pay it any mind. My whole apartment got burnt up,” Carter said. He noted that he was moved back into the same room following repairs.

Another Baltimore resident, Johnny Johnson, said he also had a small electrical fire in his apartment that burned part of his wall and floor. Weeks later, just a couple of days before a city inspector’s visit, he said an employee painted the wall. “They didn’t even remove the burned parts,” Johnson said, adding that he suspects the inspector did not examine his apartment because an AHF representative was with him.

Radiators have also posed a threat to several Madison residents, who recounted how steam allegedly “exploded” from their radiator at least once in the past year or so, a potentially deadly issue. Conners also claimed in court records that he was burned so badly by the radiator steam that a fire department official told him to get medical treatment.

“About last week, I woke up and my heater exploded, which is right by the door. The water-pressure gauge spewed off with scalding hot water. To escape my room, I had to run through the burning hot water,” Conners wrote in a February 2020 sworn declaration. “I told AHF of my burns in an email. AHF has done nothing.”

When Rachel Houston lived in the Baltimore, she said she found out she was allegedly getting sick from a carbon dioxide leak after a city inspection. “I got real sick, had a headache, was dizzy, and passed out,” Houston said. She claimed that AHF was told to move her into a different room but failed to do so until she passed out again and received assistance at a nearby fire department.

An analysis of city inspection data of five AHF buildings found 42 records citing violations  related to carbon monoxide detectors that were missing or not working, mostly in about 20 units in the King Edward and Cypress Arms.

When it comes to electrical issues, Madison residents said many of their concerns were resolved when AHF upgraded its wiring. However, residents interviewed in other buildings echoed some of the electrical problems found in city inspections. Several Olympic, King Edward, and Pride residents claimed they have to unplug one device to use another, in addition to coordinating with neighbors before using larger appliances like microwaves.

Kyle Merritt, a King Edward resident, claimed he had to flip the breaker switch to get the power back on “at least 40-something times” in a single day during his first summer on the property in 2019, something he said has happened every summer since.

Residents of the Olympic and Whitley also reported equipment damage related to outages.

Curlin Haggerty, who lives in the Whitley, alleged that power outages can occur almost every other day for multiple hours.

A man stares out the window of his room in a low-income housing building.
Baltimore resident, George Handy, peers onto the street outside his new room. Handy
previously lived in a room down the hall for years, but now lives in an upgraded unit after
winning a claim against the management. (Photo: Erik Adams | Cal State LA)

“Over a period of time, this issue messes up electronics. I had a TV that I had to replace because of this,” Haggerty said. “There was a time last summer that the power was out and nobody would respond, so we had to sit in the lobby and wait for two to three hours with no air for them to come and fix this.”

Although residents were told about improvements to the building’s electrical infrastructure, Haggerty said the outages persist.

Carlos Dominguez, another Whitley resident, said that the power goes off almost every day. “Sometimes the power stays off for almost a whole week… So I don’t buy a lot of food because I don’t want it to go bad when the power goes out.”

The electrical issues deter some people from using their store-bought heaters, which residents said they purchased because the radiators in their rooms don’t work. Like others in the Sinclair, Lavonda Parsee alleged that she hasn’t had heat since she moved into the building last year.

“When it gets cold, it gets very cold, and a lot of tenants are using their stoves because they don’t have heaters,” Parsee said.

Baltimore resident George Handy claimed that he went about four years without heat in his unit, even though he repeatedly asked for help or to be moved to a unit with heat. He was being treated for a tumor at the time. “I’ve been in three or four surgeries since living without heat, so that’s just made it even more grueling.”

READ NEXT: Elderly, Disabled Residents Struggle With Accessibility in AHF Buildings

Cal State LA’s reporting team includes Julie Patel Liss, Anne To, Marcos Franco, Denis Akbari, Leslie Magaña Arias, Victoria Ivie, Alyssah Hall, Erik Adams, Gavin Quinton, Asha Johnson, Priscilla Caballero, Erick Cabrera and Oscar Torres. Knock LA editor Morgan Keith and photo editor Ben Camacho also contributed to this report.