By Sean Nestor
The Truth Contributor
In 2021, deplorable living conditions at the Greenbelt Place Apartments
attracted the attention of U.S. Representative Marcy Kaptur and the U.S.
Department of Housing and Urban Development. This followed several years of
unheard pleas for action from residents and advocacy groups alike pointing
out severe neglect of the property by its out-of-state owner.
Still, Dallas-based Eureka Multifamily Group continues to own and profit off the complex while residents suffer in squalor.
Less than a mile north on Cherry Street, residents of the Beacon Place
Apartments are sounding the alarm about similar problems. Beacon Place is a 200-unit complex on the outskirts of downtown Toledo where a large percentage of the tenants are elderly and Black. Many have rented there for 20-30 years.
Ever since an anonymous entity bought the complex in 2016 and hired Carmel, Indiana-based Denizen Management to manage the property, residents have complained of constant rent increases, deteriorating buildings and mistreatment by management.
Rising Costs, Declining Quality
Beacon Place is home to several residents who have been long-term renters.
Without exception, each of the tenants I spoke with agreed that while past
managers had their flaws, Denizen Management has engaged in unprecedented
levels of negligence and abuse.
Mrs. Smith (not her true name), aged 71, noticed a change in demeanor right away. “When you’d ask them to fix something, it was always ‘We’re busy’, or ‘Do you have someone?’, or ‘Can your husband fix it?’ It was always about the money and never the repairs. I’ve lived here almost 20 years and they’ve never replaced the carpet, never painted the house.”
Another tenant, Mrs. Jones (not her true name), aged 77, agreed. “I liked being here; it was always so well-kept [before Denizen]. Now, they aren’t doing anything except taking our money.” She has been renting at Beacon Place since 1980.
Issues corroborated by multiple tenants include:
– Charging several fees on top of rent, including water, sewer, trash
collection, common area electricity, and an administrative fee each month;
– Denying requests for transparency regarding what the management
company pays in utilities and how each renter’s bill is calculated;
– Enrolling tenants who already have renter’s insurance into Denizen’s
insurance plan without informing them;
– Pushing tenants to use an online billing system instead of allowing
them to receive paper bills;
– Rude and dismissive language lobbied against tenants who ask questions
– Little to no groundskeeping resulting in trash strewn across common
– Little or no landscaping resulting in overgrown bushes and tree
branches obscuring windows;
– Stray animals including rats and cats loitering on the property;
– Maintenance work not being done properly;
– Maintenance work taking excessively long to complete;
– Ignoring plumbing issues, including a water main break that lasted for
months despite flooding a common area;
– Not washing the building exteriors or replacing carpeting in units;
– Loose and rotting wooden steps leading to second-floor units;
– Not shoveling or salting paved walkways around the complex;
– Refusing to provide wheelchair ramps or handrails for disabled tenants
unless the tenant pays for both installation and removal.
Many tenants I spoke with stated that they wouldn’t mind the rent increases
and extra charges if they had something to show for it.
“Every month the rent goes up. This month, it was up $40 even though I’m using less. Every month it increases because of the sewer, trash, and water fees. I’m on a fixed income. I can’t afford it. Floors are squeaky, the boards are loose – there are a lot of repairs they need to make. They keep going up on the rent but aren’t fixing anything,” said Mrs. Jones.
Four years into Denizen Management’s reign, tenants became frustrated
enough that they began talking to each other about what could be done.
During a meeting in September of 2020 of about 20 tenants on a shared lawn
in front of their units, property manager Samantha Teets placed a 911 call
stating that “two black men are holding down a white woman.” When police
arrived, they found a peaceful assembly that the tenants were within their
rights to hold; however, the experience had a chilling effect on future
gatherings, hampering efforts to organize.
Some tenants persisted regardless, and, with the help of Advocates for
Basic Legal Equality (ABLE), an organizer was found to assist them. Regular
meetings resumed in September of 2021, a full year later; this yielded the
formation of a tenants’ union, the Beacon Place Tenant Council, that
November. Armed now with a formal structure, the tenant union surveyed the
tenants about which issues they considered the most pressing.
At the top of the list were the water bills. Though most apartment
complexes don’t charge for water, Beacon Place does. The cost also tended
to increase each month, and management would react with hostility when
pressed why. The formula used to determine what each unit would be charged
supposedly took into account square footage, the number of bedrooms, and
the number of people on the lease; however, neighboring residents where all
three were the same were getting billed different amounts.
Fortunately, a remedy had just been passed into law. In September of 2021,
Toledo City Council enacted an ordinance amending Toledo Municipal Code
933.06, “Resale of water”, which prohibited the resale of water to tenants
unless each individual unit has its own meter. This allows each tenant to
know exactly how much water they consumed and, by extension, what they
should be charged. At Beacon Place, all 200 units are connected to a single
meter in violation of this requirement.
Partnering with ABLE, the Beacon Place Tenant Council filed suit against
Denizen Management in December 2021 seeking enforcement of the new law.
Denizen subsequently countersued the City of Toledo, claiming the law was
unconstitutional. This put the City’s law department on the same team as
ABLE, and, for the first time, tenants at Beacon Place had leverage against
Around this time, management began to acquiesce to certain demands. For the
first time, the paved walkways got shoveled when it snowed; some buildings
had their exterior power washed; some tenants reported finally getting worn
carpeting replaced; and a new, friendlier manager was installed in the
front office (although Samantha Teets remains in a supervisory role).
Efforts to settle the lawsuit outside of court began, providing the tenant
council with an opportunity to negotiate for solutions to other problems
not brought up in the lawsuit.
It was during a settlement discussion in late July of 2022 that matters
went south. An attorney for the City of Toledo announced that the
administration had no plans to enforce TMC 933.06, agreed with the lawyers
representing Denizen that the law was “confusing,” and stated that they
hoped to repeal the law in its entirety, or at least significantly rewrite
it. When those words were uttered, all leverage the tenant council had
Attempts to settle stalled, and in November of 2022, Toledo Municipal
Housing and Environmental Court Judge Joseph J. Howe dismissed the case. He
cited the city’s affirmation that they had no intention to enforce the law
as grounds to render the lawsuit moot.
Many tenants were upset when they heard that the city had killed their
lawsuit. “We are taxpayers. If the City can go against their own law, what
does that mean to the citizens of Toledo? That you can just do what you
want to do and take our tax money?” said Mrs. Jones. Mrs. Smith agreed,
stating “I really couldn’t understand why they would dismiss it unless they
were in cahoots with Denizen.”
The City of Toledo promotes itself as looking out for the interests of
renters, who now comprise nearly half of the city’s population according to
the 2020 census. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city has
created the Emergency Rental Assistance Program in collaboration with Lucas
County, hired a Manager of Tenant and Landlord Services, and committed
$250,000 annually to provide legal representation to low-income residents
Still, it would seem the city has no appetite for holding negligent
landlords accountable – even when those landlords are based outside of
Toledo (even Ohio) and are actively harming the city’s waning housing
stock. Hundreds of residents remain in precarious positions and feel left
behind by their own government. Requests to meet with elected officials
have so far yielded no responses.
Gwendolyn Hunt (her true name), the 71-year-old president of the Beacon Place Tenant Council, still holds faith that better days are ahead. “My hopes are that one day, Beacon Place and Denizen Management can come together with our council in an open format where we can sit down and solve any problems we have here in the Beacon Community.”