An apartment complex owner in Hurst is facing a $16,500 fine for allegedly failing to fix a list of more than 700 health and safety violations. The Hurst City Council recently voted to take this action against Charles Mercer, the owner of Dakota Place apartments, and gave him until January 14 to complete all of the city’s renovation demands. The move marks the latest chapter in a dispute with Mercer that has dragged on since 2016.
If Mercer makes the repairs by the deadline, he may be able to have his fine reduced or canceled.
Leaky roofs and mold are at the heart of the disagreement between Mercer and the city. Other issues include faulty electrical wiring, sewage backups, and unwanted guests – insects and rodents. Additionally, the Hurst Fire Department has deemed that the roofs at the complex would be unsafe for firefighters to walk on.
City officials say they’ve already given Mercer more than enough time to fix the long list of health and safety issues at the apartment complex located at 450 E. Hurst Blvd., near Bell Helicopter, but Mercer maintains that poor communication and ever-changing requirements by the city have hindered his ability to make the repairs. He claims he is getting the run-around.
For example, Mercer alleges that at one point an engineer working for the city wanted the roof removed but not the roof decking.
“He said the decking is good,” Mercer said, “and when we submitted the plans, they said, ‘Well, the decking is not good.’ And we have to add this metal frame. The city made the change after we submitted the permits.”
Work already completed on the roof “has a 10-year guarantee on it,” Mercer told the city officials during a recent public hearing. The only problem, he said, was that about 10 percent of the roofing had moisture in it, and that issue was repaired.
“The roof is not leaking,” Mercer said. “The code is that it has to be leak-proof, and it’s not leaking.”
During a recent interview, Mercer estimated that over the past year, he has made at least $100,000 in repairs at the four-building apartment complex he bought five years ago.
Courtney McDonald, who has relatives living at Dakota Place, described the apartment complex as a last resort for people with few options.
“I think rent for a place like this should be cheaper, that’s for sure,” McDonald said. “They just raised it. The floors are peeling up and stuff.”
Yes, the buildings are run-down, but “they’re old apartments,” she added. “You can’t clean old.”
As Tarrant County continues to grow, low-income residents and renters with bad credit are struggling to secure safe, affordable housing. Apartment complexes like Dakota Place are sometimes the only buffer between the disadvantaged and a life on the streets.
“They accept people that, otherwise, I don’t know where they’d go to live,” McDonald said of Dakota Place. “At least they have a roof over their heads.”
Mercer and city leaders do agree on one thing. Both sides hope to avoid the possibility of forcing about 100 residents to move out of the complex if it’s condemned.
“My tenants are nervous,” Mercer said. “They don’t know whether the building will be demolished.”
As many as nine residents at the apartments had to stop paying rent so they could scrape together enough money to move. Now they have an eviction on their rental history, Mercer said.
The city has a different perspective. Mayor Henry Wilson said during a recent interview that Mercer is “not taking care of those apartments. Aside from that, he’s charging more than $1,000 a month for apartments that are run-down, have mold in them, and have water coming down from the ceiling and poor electrical wiring.”
City officials say Mercer has stalled long enough. He already missed an October 24 deadline to bring the property into compliance.
“We’ve been working with him for over two years, and we’re finally at the point where push comes to shove,” Wilson said. “We don’t want to condemn the apartments, and we don’t want to kick people out of the apartments. We want him to fix them, so we’re trying to do everything we can to get him to get them up to speed.”
When asked about Mercer’s claim that he’s being stonewalled, the mayor said, “He’s made a lot of claims that are not real.”
At least one apartment has a November 5 city notice on its door that states it is unsafe to occupy. McDonald said her mother used to live below that apartment, which has mold in it. Her mom has since been relocated to another unit at Dakota Place.
Although city officials have said they don’t want to demolish the complex, that extreme option is not off of the table.