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Waitlist, repair requests growing at Columbia townhome complex where two children died in fire

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

As Columbia Square Townhomes embarks on its city rental license inspection for safety, the time its owners are taking to fix problems reported by tenants is growing.

State inspection records obtained by ABC 17 News show that property managers at the west Columbia complex have garnered an "[e]xtensive work order backlog with multiple items being open over 100 days." The December 2022 review also found that it's taking the complex longer to get vacant units ready to lease. That turnaround time grew from 18 days in mid-2020 to 135 days two years later.

ABC 17 News has covered many issues at the complex where two children died in a December 2022 fire. Columbia Square Townhomes did not renew its city license required of rental complexes to operate when Washington-based LEDG Capital took over ownership from Yarco in December 2020.

Yarco now manages the property.

Since then, the city has dealt with numerous complaints from tenants over living conditions there, including roaches, mice and broken smoke detectors.

The Missouri Housing and Development Commission conducts yearly inspections at Columbia Square Townhomes as part of the complex's contract with U.S. Housing and Urban Development. Columbia Square Townhomes receives thousands every year through the Section 8 Project Based Rental Assistance program. The 2008 agreement lists the contract rent at $592 for a two-bedroom unit and $784 for a three-bedroom unit.

HUD gives the owners a payment for up to 121 of the 128 units at Columbia Square Townhomes, with amounts varying based on the size of the unit. The contract is set to run until 2028.

LINK: Columbia Square has history of smoke detector issues

A December 2022 state inspection said that 12 of the 14 vacant units inspected were not suitable for living. Seven of the 12 had been vacant for a year. Some would be fixed through rehab while others were missing appliances like stoves and refrigerators.

The inspection said units should be made ready to rent within 90 days of becoming vacant. In the entire third quarter of 2022, units at Columbia Square Townhomes stayed vacant for 212 days on average.

A 2021 inspection identified a major issue in the management and maintenance of the complex.

A management gap at Columbia Square Townhomes has led to unsafe conditions, according to state inspection records.

ABC 17 News obtained four years’ worth of inspection records done by the Missouri Housing Development Commission at the west Columbia complex. One inspection highlighted the complex’s lack of maintenance staff for six months in 2021 after Washington-based LEDG Capital bought the complex from Yarco Companies. 

The March 2022 inspection said owners wanted a different management company when they bought the complex, but later came back to Yarco in the summer of 2021.

“There has been no Leasing manager for the past 12 months,” the inspection said. “Property has a new Property Manager that was hired within one month of the date of the inspection. New (additional) maintenance staff is scheduled to start within two (2) weeks.” 

The inspection noted that the complex in that time had garnered an "[e]xtensive work order backlog with multiple items being open over 100 days." 

Since then, the complex has seen a growing delay in getting vacant units ready to rent to others. The turnaround time grew from 18 days in mid-2020 to 135 days two years later. A unit went from an average vacancy of 54 days in the third quarter of 2020 to 212 days in the third quarter of 2022. The MHDC said units should not spend more than 90 days vacant. 

A December 2022 inspection said that 12 of the 14 vacant units inspected were not suitable for living. Seven of the 12 had been vacant for a year. Some would be fixed through rehab while others were missing appliances like stoves and refrigerators.

ABC 17 News has covered many issues at the complex where two children died in a December 2022 fire. Columbia Square Townhomes did not renew its city license required of rental complexes to operate when LEDG Capital took over ownership from Yarco in December 2020. A city inspection took place on Jan. 9 of the entire complex. City inspector Adam Freisz noted smoke detector issues in nearly 40% of the units, from missing batteries to missing detectors.

LINK: Columbia Square has history of smoke detector issues

Yarco now manages the property. 

ABC 17 News asked Yarco vice president of management operations Karen Fernandez for permission to come on the property for the city inspection. Fernandez declined but asked ABC 17 News for a list of questions. A reporter asked Fernandez for an interview on several topics, including the state inspection results, on Jan. 11. That email and a follow-up phone call were never returned.

Since the ownership change, the city has dealt with numerous complaints from tenants over living conditions there, including roaches, mice and broken smoke detectors. A state inspector gave the complex a “poor” rating on its pest control practices for only providing help on a tenant’s request rather than a scheduled treatment.

The MHDC conducts yearly inspections at Columbia Square Townhomes as part of the complex's contract with U.S. Housing and Urban Development. Columbia Square Townhomes receives thousands every year through the Section 8 Project Based Rental Assistance program. The 2008 agreement lists the contract rent at $592 for a two-bedroom unit and $784 for a three-bedroom unit.

HUD gives the owners a payment for up to 121 of the 128 units at Columbia Square Townhomes, with amounts varying based on the size of the unit.

The contract is set to run until 2028.

Article Topic Follows: ABC 17 News Investigates
columbia
columbia square
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Lucas Geisler

Lucas Geisler anchors the 5 p.m. show for ABC 17 News and reports on the latest news around mid-Missouri at 9 and 10 p.m.

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