Repair work is underway on the heating system of a south Tulsa apartment complex, officials said Friday, and an order to vacate that residents received Thursday doesn’t force them to leave — yet.
The wording of the orders posted at Chateau 68 Apartments, 6805 S. Lewis Ave., led many residents to believe they were being forced to leave because their complex couldn’t provide adequate heat, but Health Department officials say that’s not the case if repairs are made.
Kendra Wise, the department’s housing program coordinator, said the order actually gives residents the opportunity to break their lease without repercussions if they feel unsafe in the current conditions.
The Health Department has been working with the complex for a little more than a month to fix heating issues, and Wise said they had extended the grace period long enough before posting the orders Thursday, giving residents who decided to move the opportunity to do so over the weekend.
Alyssa Wilcox, a resident with a 2-week-old baby, said there hasn’t been heat since early October and that the water was shut off Thursday while crews worked to fix the boiler system. She had to use bottled water to wash her infant’s bottles.
“There was no AC while I was pregnant, and there’s no heat now that she’s here,” she said.
Property Manager Hailee Whittenburg said crews worked until 3 a.m. Friday to get the boiler up and running, but it’s not running at its full capacity.
The air temperature inside four units tested Friday was between 60 and 70 degrees, according to a Tulsa Health Department news release, and Wilcox’s mother described the “hot” water as lukewarm at best.
Property owner Richard Bessey, based out of Utah, said he has been working diligently to resolve the problem but that it joins a list of many he’s encountered since purchasing the property in June.
In a phone call Friday, Bessey said the previous owners “totally misrepresented” the complex before sale, saying everything was up to par and new equipment had been installed. He soon realized that was not the case.
He was met with air-conditioning issues that prompted him to rent a chiller to provide some relief from the summer heat for the complex’s residents, and in October, when they hoped to switch the system over to heat with the boiler, it wouldn’t fire up.
“The previous owners were doing Band-Aids,” Bessey said. “What we’re finding out from tenants is this has been going on for years.”
First, they thought it was an electrical problem, he said. Then, there was a leak in the boiler. Then, there was a leak in the pipes.
The water was shut off for about five hours overnight as crews worked to repair an underground leak near the complex’s playground, Whittenburg said, and there remains one leak to fix on Monday.
However, the boiler is being left on to give residents some semblance of heat.
Even with the slight improvement, Wise said she worries about what will happen if another pipe springs a leak, especially considering next week’s impending weather.
The National Weather Service in Tulsa predicts “unseasonably cold” temperatures to arrive with a cold front late Sunday, including a low of 19 degrees Monday night.
The Health Department met with community partners, including Tulsa Area Emergency Management, Friday morning to discuss a plan of action should the complex be determined to be unfit for human occupancy, which shouldn’t happen as long as the system can maintain adequate temperatures and long-term repairs are being made, according to a news release.
However, in case it does, the partners, including 211 and the Community Service Council, are working to create a flyer with information on housing assistance programs, shelter locations and other resources residents may require.
The department attached a flyer to the order to vacate on Thursday, listing assistance providers:
• Community Service Council helpline, 211
• Day Center for the Homeless, 918-583-5588
• John 3:16 Mission, 918-587-1187
• Salvation Army Social Services, 918-582-7201
• Tulsa County Social Services, 918-596-5591