GALVESTON — Tenants spent this week moving from an apartment home after the city learned they were living in a structure that officials condemned in March.
A Galveston Housing Authority representative and a city councilwoman said they’d be interested in learning whether measures could be implemented to ensure low-income residents aren’t living in housing unfit for habitation.
Victor Anderson, 56, and Lee Jessing, 61, a Vietnam War veteran, said they were among the tenants told just before Thanksgiving to move from 2828 Ave. Q 1/2.
Anderson, whose rent was paid by a Galveston Housing Authority voucher, and Jessing said they also had to move from the home in March. Jessing said he returned to the house about four months ago.
The building was condemned March 20 because of fire, sewage and electrical issues, city of Galveston spokeswoman Elizabeth Rogers said.
Electrical and plumbing permits were pulled and the power was restored in April to allow for service work. In May, the property manager requested an inspection, and the city found the units vacant. A city compliance officer ordered the smoke and fire detectors to be hard wired because it was a commercial property, Rogers said.
“The property manager at that time said they had to get bids and she would get back with them,” Rogers said. “In the meantime, it appears the tenants were moved into the property, unauthorized by the city.”
Anderson’s residence passed a housing authority inspection in January, but Anderson called a case manager on Oct. 24, requesting an inspection because there was no power, said Mona Purgason, the authority’s deputy executive director.
The landlord didn’t meet a 24-hour deadline to restore electricity, so the authority stopped paying for the unit and gave Anderson a voucher to find alternative housing. The authority doesn’t fund moving expenses, Purgason said.
The authority was unaware the city condemned the house, Purgason said.
On Nov. 15, a tenant called the city, reporting the electrical breakers clicking off, Rogers said.
“This is when the city discovered they had rented out the apartments and that the property was occupied,” Rogers said. “The electrical inspector and compliance officer informed them that they must move, due to the wiring not being to code.”
The new property manager went to the city’s planning department that day and stated she was unaware the property had been condemned, Rogers said. The city’s compliance officer and electrical inspector met with the owner on Nov. 19 to discuss issues and concerns, Rogers said.
The Galveston Central Appraisal District lists the owner as Omri Shafran since 2007.
Shafran told The Daily News he had met all the city’s requirements and paid to move the tenants to another of his properties.
“The city gave me one week to vacate the property, and I did it within three days,” Shafran said. “It’s a much better property.”
Shafran said he hired a contractor and paid $5,000 to have the apartment home meet city code.
“I did whatever the city told (me) to do,” Shafran said. “I didn’t cut any corners.”
Cody Michael, who attends Central Baptist Church, was at the house Monday, helping Jessing move. Michael said he was not affiliated with the owner but was just helping a fellow church member.
Jessing and Anderson complained their landlord wanted to increase their rent for the new dwellings. Shafran said paying more for an upgraded dwelling was optional.
Mark Grandich is an attorney with Lone Star Legal Aid, a nonprofit law firm that provides free legal representation for low-income Texans.
“If they have leases that are in place, and they can’t live there, they do have claims for breach of contract against the landlord for money they have to pay extra in rent,” Grandich said.
Shafran said he’s assessing the feasibility of making repairs or whether he’ll board up the property for eventual demolishment.
Meanwhile, Purgason and Galveston City Councilwoman Cornelia Harris Banks said they would be interested in finding ways to ensure tenants don’t meet similar fates.
“I can speak for the GHA and the board,” Purgason said. “If something can be done to make discovery of something like this, then we’re all for it.”
Banks said the issue was a three-way street. Tenants, code enforcement and landlords should somehow work together to ensure residents receive appropriate housing.