Residents Report Mold, Falling Ceilings at Johnston Apartment Complex

Tuesday, September 18, 2018


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Photo: Heather Argenti

Low-income residents displaced by structural and environmental issues including mold and leaking roofs -- and falling ceilings -- at a Johnston apartment complex are calling for the town to take action. 

The allegations come from tenants of the Park Plaza Apartments on Park Street, who say that their lives have been uprooted -- and that due to their financial position, they feel they have little recourse. 

"The ceiling in my kitchen fell in on June 2," said resident Heather Argenti, who has lived at the complex along with her husband and two children for twelve years. 

"It literally missed my daughter by ten minutes. We were home -- luckily dinner was on the table [and we ate] before it fell," said Argenti. "That was on a Saturday. I sent a message to the head of maintenance, who said they would take care of it Monday.  They never came. That Tuesday, I filed a complaint with the town."

Argenti noted that when the town finally came to look, the property manager -- Preservation Management, which took over management last fall -- covered the hole in the ceiling with plastic, but didn't conduct a mold test until weeks later. 

"We sat in it for six weeks," said Argenti. "On July 17, they told us that the mold test -- taken a week before -- came back positive, and that we had to leave right away."

Argenti has been living with her husband in two rooms in an extended stay hotel in Warwick since, and said the family is struggling with the lack of space, coupled with increased commute times for her teenage children to school in Johnston — and having limited freezer space, resulting in increased food costs since she can no longer buy in bulk. 

“I want people to know what we’re going through. Just because we don’t have pockets full of money doesn’t mean we don’t deserve common courtesy,” said Argenti. “I pay my rent on time, every month. I’m holding up my end of the agreement.  Even though we don’t have a lot of money, whether we pay $1 or $5000 for rent, we deserve a safe place to live."

Preservation Management did not respond to request for comment on Monday.

Challenging Town

On Friday, lawyers sent a notice to the Johnston Town Council on behalf of Argenti, her family — and a total of twenty claimants.

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Photo: Heather Argenti

Lawyers Artin Coloian and Daniel Calabro sent a letter alleging that as “a direct and proximate result of the Town of Johnston and Johnston Housing Authority’s acts and omissions, including but not limited to the above-enumerated violations of the Argentis’ civil rights, the Argentis has suffered property damage, pain and suffering, personal injuries, and has otherwise been greatly damnified.”

“We have 20 clients who have suffered personal injury as a result of these abhorrent conditions,” said Coloian. “These folks are being taken advantage of because their financial situation doesn't allow them to move to a safer environment."

Calls and emails placed to Johnston Mayor Polisena’s office were not returned on Monday; the Johnson Housing Authority did, however, spoke to their role.

“Park Plaza is managed by Preservation Management in Portland [Maine]. The Johnston Housing Authority does not place residents or manage this property at all,” said David aRusso with the Johnston Housing Authority. 

“We have also received several calls from residents with issues concerning the condition of their apartments. We have referred those calls to the management company, or if they do not get satisfaction, The US Dept of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Boston,” said aRusso.

Boston HUD’s Rhonda Siciliano, when reached on Monday, said they were aware of issues, and that the property recently passed inspection. 

“An inspection occurred 9/7/2018 and the property scored a 77c, passing is 60 or above.  Some minor mold/mildew issues were noted with the inspection,” said Siciliano.  “Eight tenant families are staying in extended stay hotels due to mold issues.  Repairs are underway to those units.  Section 8 subsidy is not being paid on those units.”

Coloian issued a strong rebuke on Monday. 

“If they think the conditions at this property are acceptable, I don't know what planet they're on,” said Coloian, who along with Calabro is representing tenants of Brady Sullivan properties in the state on separate alleged building and environmental issues. “We have grave concerns about the property these people are living in."

The Argentis’ neighbor at Park Plaza, Lisa Czerwien, spoke to both her own displacement after the revelation of mold, and her concern for her children. 

Czerwien, who said she has lived in the complex for fifteen years and has children aged twelve, ten, seven, and two, said she has questions about the apartment’s environmental condition — and her children's developmental issues. 

“I’m making doctor’s appointment. I want to see what they say about the exposure to mold,” said Czerwien. “If it’s the reason why my kids have the problems they have…if the fixes aren’t being done adequately. I am on the Johnston Housing list to go into a bigger apartment, but it’s a two to three-year waiting list. I should not have to go back to sub-standardized housing.”


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