An out-of-town owner and property managers of a set of shabby apartment buildings near Shaker Square faced a room of frustrated tenants this week.
The meeting capped a monthslong effort by tenant organizers to bring problems in the buildings – located at 12701 and 12500-12600 Shaker Boulevard – to the attention of media and Cleveland officials.
Yaacov Amar, who told tenants he was a part owner of the buildings, said he was working to fix up the multi-family complexes, which were in “disgusting” condition when the ownership group bought them.
Amar acknowledged that the building was beset by water leaks and that some tenants had gone without working heat. He introduced a new set of property managers, who suggested the previous management company hadn’t lived up to its responsibilities.
“We are here to work together, and we are trying to do our best,” Amar said.
News media were asked to leave the Wednesday night meeting, which was held at a community hall across the street from Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church. Signal Cleveland obtained an audio recording of the gathering afterward.
The current owners bought the properties for $12.4 million in January 2022. At the time, Crain’s Cleveland Business identified the ownership as a venture by AMG Realty Group and the Chetrit family. The buildings are held by Shaker Heights Apartments Owner LLC, which shares an address with the Chetrit Organization, property and mortgage records show.
Cleveland has seen a wave of investors, many from out of state, purchasing apartments and single-family homes. Officials have had difficulty reaching and prosecuting code violators who operate through limited liability companies and live far from the assets they own.
The city’s Building and Housing director this week told Cleveland City Council that a slate of legislative reforms would be coming to get a handle on investor-owned properties.
In early February, Council President Blaine Griffin and Ward 4 Council Member Deborah Gray held a press conference highlighting residents’ complaints. Gray later traveled to New York City in an effort to talk with the owners.
Griffin moderated the Wednesday night event, where he pressed the owner and managers to give tenants a timeline for maintenance work. Tenants complained of broken heating systems, water leaks and poor security in the buildings. One woman said she’d been using her oven to keep her apartment warm.
“There is such a lack of professionalism and professional standards for taking care of these buildings,” another woman said. “As an owner and all of you all investors, we should be your first priority.”
The new property managers said they had set up a portal for processing maintenance complaints and were working through 2,000 work orders. For tenants without heat, they said a fix would be coming over the next week.
The tension between residents and the owners is also playing out in Cleveland Housing Court.
Last April, a city building inspector cited the owners for peeling paint, water-damaged walls, a broken smoke detector and broken exit signs, records show. The city later cited the owners for failing to comply with an order to fix the problems. The owners have hired local attorneys and pleaded not guilty to the violations.
More than two dozen tenants are also facing eviction for unpaid rent, court records show. On Wednesday night, Griffin said he had been told by housing court officials that the evictions would not proceed until the buildings’ code violation cases are resolved.
“Today was about getting results,” the council president said. “If you don’t get the results that these guys said that they’re here today to do, then the city will be taking aggressive action.”
In the early February press conference, Griffin raised the possibility of the city bringing a public nuisance lawsuit against the owners. The council president told Signal Cleveland that he, Law Director Mark Griffin and Building and Housing Director Sally Martin O’Toole also met separately with the owner and managers before the gathering with tenants this week.
Ronald James, a tenant who has helped organize his neighbors, told Signal Cleveland that he was paying his rent into escrow until the landlords fix problems in the building. He said he appreciated that Griffin and Gray were at the meeting to hear the owner and managers’ promises.
As for the promises themselves: “I’ll believe it when I see it,” he said.
This story has been updated to reflect the fact that company holding title to the buildings shares an address with the Chetrit Organization, not the Chetrit Group.