Some tenants voice frustration with apartments' management

Southgate Manor resident Vaysa Burton lifts her bedsheets to show a nest of bedbugs Saturday at her apartment. Residents of the complex were notified last month by owner Falconite Development that the apartments would be closing due to a bedbug and cockroach infestation.

ELLEN O'NAN | The Sun

All of the roughly 35 people who once called Southgate Manor home must find new living arrangements by the middle of this month.

Several have decided they won't be going quietly.

"I want a better house, don't get me wrong, but I'm here until the bitter end," said Paula Sayre, who has lived in the 44-unit complex at 610 Caldwell St. in Paducah for nearly two years. "If somebody doesn't take a stand, nobody will ever know."

Sayre is among several tenants who say Falconite Development, the company that owns Southgate Manor, didn't act fairly when it notified them last month that the complex is closing due to a bedbug and cockroach infestation.

The dissatisfied residents believe other issues at the apartments contributed to the closure. They think Falconite could have done more to maintain the property and assist displaced residents, many of whom are on a fixed income.

"They need to do something to make it right," said Letha Weatherford, who relocated after living in the complex for a year. "I had to leave everything I owned and paid for it out of my pocket, because of Falconite."

A Falconite representative declined to comment for this story. The company previously told The Sun that tenants were responsible for the infestation.

"… (M)any of the residents refused to comply with the exterminator's requirements, and that has led us to the situation we are all facing today," Office Manager Angela Turner said in an emailed statement. She added that Falconite was attempting to find new homes for as many residents as possible.

Weatherford sees the issue differently.

"Every critter known is coming through the cracks (in the building), and they're going to say it's our fault? No, that's maintenance. That's management," she said.

Six tenants said bedbugs had been a problem at the building for at least a year. Weatherford said Falconite had refused to treat the pests when she first moved in, so she'd paid an exterminator herself. Others tried to get rid of them using whatever means they could afford.

"Up until about a year ago, (living at Southgate Manor) was terrific. Then, I don't know what happened," said Vaysa Burton, who's been living at Southgate for four years. "They wanted to charge $750 for treatment of bedbugs. I started treating them myself, with rubbing alcohol and Raid."

Others confirmed that Falconite had asked them for a $750 payment to treat the infestation.

Bedbug infestations typically require the entire building be treated, as the insects are hardy and can travel on linens, clothing and furniture. If residents aren't educated on how to prevent re-infestations, extermination efforts will fail, said Carol Perry, co-owner of Perry's Pest Control and a friend of some Southgate Manor tenants.

A few dissatisfied residents also said they'd experienced other problems, including unsafe appliances, faulty electrical outlets, broken fire alarms, busted windows, unsanitary conditions and sewage backups inside and outside the building.

"These places have been uninhabitable for a long time," said Perry, who has been visiting the property in a non-professional capacity for about three years.

The tenants acknowledged that residents were responsible for problems like trash and furniture accumulating near the dumpster. But they said other issues were beyond their control, and Falconite was either slow to remedy the problems or didn't address them at all.

"It's such a mess, you don't even know where to begin," said Susan Johnson, who has lived at Southgate Manor for seven years. "It's unsafe."

The Paducah Fire Prevention Division cited the property seven times in the last two years, according to public records The Sun obtained. Only the most recent citation, dated April 17 of this year, mentioned an insect infestation.

Several citations note trash around the building's dumpsters. Other problems include non-working fire alarms and extinguishers, an exposed baseboard heating control, standing water and a broken window.

One citation, from March 2015, requests a long-term plan to replace decaying siding. Reports also note "substantial deterioration of siding, trim and paint throughout complex on the exterior" and "multiple attempts through correspondence to site manager with no progression on making corrections."

"They have not exercised due diligence," Perry said of Falconite.

While some Southgate Manor tenants have managed to relocate, others are still searching for a place to live. Several report that they either didn't hear from Falconite about finding a new place or that arrangements fell through.

"A lot of good people who don't deserve it are being displaced," Johnson said. "They have nowhere to go, and no means to do it."

Weatherford said she hopes landlords will consider former Southgate residents despite the infestation.

"Bedbugs aren't a terminal illness," she said. "Furniture can be replaced. Clothes can be replaced."

Burton said she hopes to get an extension by going to small claims court. If that doesn't work, she can stay with friends until she finds a place she can afford.

Sayre said she was considering staying at Southgate Manor until she's forced to leave.

"I'm going to make a statement. This (isn't) right," she said.

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