Garbage overflows the dumpster at the Stratton Royale Apartments on East Lancaster Avenue. Photo by Madelaina Gorman

The Stratton Royale Apartments have long been a serious problem on East Lancaster Avenue. While the view from the street as you pass the complex’s façade on foot or in a car isn’t all that bad — it simply looks like a lot of other lower- and middle-class apartment buildings in the area — the minute you enter the drive that circles the buildings, serious issues become apparent. Dozens of garbage bags are piled willy-nilly around dumpsters that are full and overflowing, drawing rats and other rodents to the complex. The driveway itself is pockmarked with potholes that are often several feet wide and several inches deep. After a rain, it’s impossible to assess which to drive through and which to avoid to prevent damage to your car’s undercarriage. Each of the 52 units in the apartments has been outfitted with a small air-conditioning unit that does not fit the window designs, forcing tenants to cover up large openings with wood, cardboard, or plastic. 

The apartments are in such rotten condition that they have been a pet peeve of Mike Phipps, a local community activist, for more than 20 years. “It’s so bad that they often have a river of sewage flowing out the rear of the building and down into the yards of private homes that abut the complex.”

But that might all be changing soon. New owners have purchased the Stratton Royale and three other complexes in the neighborhood and are working hard to improve them. The owners, the Kinsa Group LLC, have already begun work on the nearby La Hacienda and Ederville Apartments, and during a recent visit to the Lancaster Apartments complex, two crews of yard workers and several handymen were at work. 

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Work has not yet started on the Stratton Royale, but Diane Covey, public information officer for Fort Worth’s Code Compliance office, said the city is optimistic that work will begin on those apartments soon. “The Stratton Apartments have been under new ownership for less than 30 days,” she noted in an email. “They are aware of the existing violations and are working diligently to correct all deficiencies. City Code Compliance officers continue to work with the new owners and provide any assistance as needed.”

Given their current condition, the new owners have a lot of work ahead of them. The air-conditioner condensation has done serious damage to parts of the wooden sections of the exterior. One apartment that sustained a fire and was boarded up — as noted in a Star-Telegram story published several months ago — is still boarded up. The potholes are dangerous. The garbage sitting near both overflowing dumpsters, an outrage. The courtyard between the two long apartment buildings, a disgrace. Windows in several of the apartments are broken.

“These things have been badly run since 1998,” Phipps said. “People shouldn’t have to live like that, but the tenants are afraid to speak up because they are afraid they might lose their leases, lose their apartments. No one is living at the Stratton because they want to live there. They’re there because it’s their only option.”

Only one tenant would talk with me — and would not give her name or allow her picture to be taken, backing up Phipps’ claim — when I drove through the complex several times last week. I asked her if the new owners had begun to make changes yet. “Well, they say we have new owners, but we haven’t seen anything yet,” she said. “They did close up the open sewer line in the back, but that’s all.”

In fact, Covey said that the sewer line was apparently sealed by a plumber who was a friend of the complex manager and did the work for free just to keep feces from flowing where children might play.

I reached out to the new owners, but they have not yet replied to an email asking for a timetable on repairs. “We are so far past the lipstick phase,” Phipps said when told the new owners had been asked if they’d developed their repair timetable yet. “Serious work needs to be done on all levels to make that place habitable.”

I reached out to the company that takes care of the apartments’ garbage, but they would not comment other than to say they could not comment on why there was so much garbage that wasn’t being hauled away or why there were not additional dumpsters for the tenants to use.

I reached out to Gina Bevins, the city councilperson for District 5, in which the Stratton is located, but she did not get back to me by press time. Phipps said she is concerned about her district, however, and less than a year ago, at least partly at Phipps’ urging, Bivens organized a bus tour of the worst eyesores in the area. “Gina is good at looking at problems and getting motion on them,” Phipps said. “With us on the ride, we had representatives of the police, Code Compliance, health department officials, and several others from the city.”

Nothing changed as a result of that bus ride, however, said Phipps, because the buildings were under federal supervision at the time. The previous owners, 4D Circle Property Group LLC, had run afoul of the Federal Securities and Exchange Commission, leaving the complex in a no-win situation. According to Phipps, “the supervisor was to help with health and safety issues but was not permitted to spend any money on the buildings.”

With the buildings in receivership, Covey told me, “there was no money to make repairs. That’s why that plumber went out there on his own to fix that broken sewage pipe.”

Until the new owners bought the Stratton, Covey said, it got to the point where she didn’t think Code Compliance were even writing tickets for violations any longer. “Sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to keep giving tickets out to someone who is not going to pay,” she said, “and in this case, the building was in receivership, so we were not going to get paid.”

Phipps hopes the new owners follow through. If they don’t, he’ll keep making noise: “Someone has to speak for the people who live there.”