Fox 8 Defenders: JP leaders conduct monthly sweeps of Bellemont Apartments
METAIRIE, La. (WVUE) - A religious nonprofit had to pay $150,000 to hold onto its property in Metairie after years of code enforcement violations and complaints. Now, Jefferson Parish leaders say they’re staying on top of the owner, who also faces violations in New Orleans.
Liz Berge is very familiar with the Bellemont Apartment Homes. She visits once a month as part of a proactive patrol to look for code violations.
“What we’re finding is the window frames, broken glass, the gutters,” Berge said, describing violations found during a recent visit.
Liza Caluda, director of Jefferson Parish’s Property Maintenance Zoning and Quality of Life Department, said, “These violations for exterior surfaces being in disrepair, walkways being in disrepair, those have been ongoing for years.”
The Bellemont complex is owned by GMF-Preservation of Affordability Corporation. That’s the same Tennessee-based religious nonprofit that Fox 8 has been reporting on for months. It also owns The Willows in New Orleans East and Parc Fontaine in Algiers. Richard Hamlet, a reverend and international evangelist, is the CEO.
Jefferson Parish councilman Dominick Impastato said, “It’s a nonprofit that owns this apartment complex and they are an absolute horrid land owner, they are a terrible neighbor, they are an absolute unwanted guest in our parish in every way.”
Nicole, the Bellemont’s property manager who wouldn’t provide a last name, said Hamlet and his son Lucian are intimately involved with the Metairie complex’s operations.
“Yes, we try to communicate as much as possible, be as transparent as possible, so we’re all on the same page,” she said.
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In 2015, GMF received $17 million in bonds from the Louisiana Community Development Authority to help purchase the Bellemont. It wasn’t long before violations were reported.
In 2017, the parish began citing the property. And when violations weren’t addressed, the 1st Parish Court stepped in. Over the years, multiple judgments were rendered against GMF and it was ordered to pay daily fines. Those fines started in 2017 and went from $25 a day to $100 to $500. After two years of ignoring the fines, a judge ordered GMF to pay $150,000 to keep the property.
“We executed a judgment of $150,000 that Liza, when she was with the parish attorney, went and obtained and tried the case and won,” Impastato said. “And they paid that $150,000 fine.”
Caluda said, “If they would have cleared the violations timely, they wouldn’t have gone through contempt proceedings. There wouldn’t have been a fine.”
Since that $150,000 payment was made three years ago, GMF racked up even more fines for code violations at the Bellemont. But Caluda said GMF has become more responsive to fixing up the property.
“After we had the contempt proceedings, the judgment was rendered and payment was made, they’ve been a lot more responsive with cleaning the violations on a much more timely basis now,” Caluda said.
She said the routine inspections the parish instituted, checking the exterior of the property, help. But some residents said taking a look inside tells another story.
Haley Hall lives at the Bellemont with her two young boys. She showed us around her apartment, which she said was filled with mold and termites.
“It rained really hard yesterday, and the roof has like six or seven leaks in it,” Hall said of her bathroom ceiling.
She says she’s complained to Bellemont management about the problems but has seen few repairs. People who live next to the property said they too have complained for years about the state of the complex, but that their concerns have fallen on deaf ears.
The property manager Nicole was asked if neighbors to the complex are able to visit her office to voice concerns about crime and other issues.
“The blessing with that is, I don’t have that problem,” Nicole said. “We don’t have a lot of crime over here. The residents don’t really complain to me about a lot of things.”
But neighbor Tiffany Galland said, “It’s pitch black, the lighting is terrible, I don’t even feel safe in my backyard because of the gunshots and shootings that we’ve had. I’m waiting for my daughter or my husband or myself to get shot.”
The Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office said they have responded to more than 60 crime-related calls for service so far this year at the Bellemont, a number the JPSO considers high.
Galland said she’s tried selling her home near the Bellemont but can’t. So she’s gotten the parish involved over the years, repeatedly complaining to code enforcement, the parish council and the sheriff’s office. Now, she’s turning to the Fox 8 Defenders.
“When I saw your story about the New Orleans East complex, this complex needs to be addressed just like theirs,” Galland said.
The property manager Nicole said, “I think we try to do as much as we can possibly do here to make sure that the residents are safe, they’re happy. If I request something from Mr. Hamlet and he understands why we need it, he will fund it. I will not take that away from that gentleman at all.”
If money isn’t a problem, Hall wonders why she must live under the conditions she does.
“If I tell them -- because I’ve threatened them before about not paying my rent because they’re not helping me -- (they say) extra $75 dollars in my rent or they’re kicking me out,” Hall said.
After we questioned the property manager about Hall’s apartment, crews removed the mold that covered her walls and repaired the leaking ceiling in her bathroom. They also repaired the broken window in her son’s bedroom and removed the termites.
If you have a consumer complaint you’d like us to look into, call the Fox 8 Defenders, staffed with volunteers from the National Council of Jewish Women at 1-877-670-6397. Or click here to fill out our online complaint form, which is the easiest way to reach us.
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