Residents of 52-unit building forced out

A resident at Oak Lane Gardens carries belongings from the building. Fire and sanitation violations were cited.
A resident at Oak Lane Gardens carries belongings from the building. Fire and sanitation violations were cited. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 16, 2014

EAST OAK LANE All morning Friday, rental trucks and vans pulled up to the curb outside the Oak Lane Gardens condominiums at North 13th Street and 68th Avenue.

Residents hurried in and out of the building, hauling their possessions to the sidewalk.

The clock was ticking. City workers with hammers and nails waited to board up the doorways of the four-story building at 2 p.m.

One man had ripped out his kitchen sink to take away. Another had hauled a refrigerator to the sidewalk.

The Department of Licenses and Inspections was forcing all the residents to move out, citing multiple fire and sanitation violations.

Bernadine Garnett lived at Oak Lane Gardens for 13 years. She has found another place to live through a friend. But she said the last few days have been wrenching.

"My stomach hurts," Garnett said. "I haven't eaten."

All the residents were notified two weeks ago that the city was seeking to "cease operations" at the 94-year-old building in East Oak Lane. Last Tuesday, they got word that they had to be out by Friday afternoon.

It's unusual action to force the evacuation of such a large residence, but the extent of the problems was "too great to allow continued occupation," said Michael Maenner, L&I's deputy commissioner, who oversaw the action.

Maenner said one of the buildings had six inches of sewage in the basement. Fire escapes, he added, were impassable with trash.

"For their safety, we're hoping the owners will get together and make the building viable again," he said.

But that will not be easy.

Built in 1920, the 52-unit building was converted into condominiums in 1998.

Residents gave conflicting information on whether the condominium association, which would be responsible for maintaining the property and paying bills, was functional.

"There is no clear owner," Maenner said. For the building to reopen, he added, the people who own the units - investors as well as owner-occupants - will have to work together to make necessary improvements.

Two businesses - Rare Rentals and De Orion Ltd. - own a majority of the units.

Todd Nitschelm, a property manager for Rare Rentals, said the company had spent $10,000 on fire safety upgrades since learning two weeks ago of the city's plan. He said the fire system was recertified and the company installed wire safety glass in stairwells.

"We've kept everything for our units up to good standards," Nitschelm said. "But we've been the only ones to spend a dime on the place."

Representatives of De Orion, which owns seven units, could not be reached for comment. City real estate records only list a post-office box as the company's address.


jlin@phillynews.com

215-854-5659215-854-5659  @j_linq

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