Although most people don’t often think about it, apartment complex management is rarely a small business. In fact, as of 2015, individual private citizens owned just 38% of all residential buildings intended to house five families or more, and 8% of residential buildings built to house 50 families or more.
As is the case in most industries, large companies control large portions of the rental housing market. Even when housing is government subsidized, or constructed with government planning and assistance, it’s often private corporations that execute these plans and manage daily building operations. Consequently, the conduct of these companies affects countless families’ safety and quality of life.
Columbia Residential, LLC is a property management company that controls apartment complexes, townhomes, and senior living communities across Decatur and DeKalb counties, as well as outside of Georgia, and frequently works together with the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
While this means Columbia Residential is often involved in positive efforts to provide much-needed housing, it also means that the people who need that housing the most are at the mercy of Columbia Residential’s policies on tenant safety.
All landlords have a responsibility to protect tenants and guests from foreseeable dangers, including foreseeable criminal behavior. Yet inadequate security remains common throughout Georgia, especially in low-income complexes, and patterns of crime are often allowed to repeat ad nauseam and with impunity.
The property management industry as a whole typically deflects as much of the responsibility as possible by encouraging people to think of all crime as unavoidable, and to think of security as a luxury, rather than the right and necessity that it is. Therefore, when crime occurs on rental properties, and especially when it occurs repeatedly, it’s always worth questioning whether the owner, be it a company or an individual, is putting in all due effort and investment to keep the property safe.
It is one of the missions of the Stoddard Firm to hold companies like Columbia Residential responsible for any deaths and damages that occur as a result of profit margins taking precedence over security.
Columbia Residential Ostensibly Exists to Provide Safe, Affordable Housing
According to Columbia Residential’s own page on its company vision, it was founded in response to “the necessity for quality affordable housing that fulfills the needs of our residents and also enhances the aesthetic standards of the community.” The company is outspokenly proud of its architecture, its amenities, and the purported peacefulness and accessibility of its communities. In fact, the very first item of its stated mission is “to provide quality, safe and affordable housing for low and moderate income families.”
To some degree, Columbia Residential has delivered on this mission through an experimental “mixed income” housing model. By working with nonprofits focused on decentralizing poverty — mixing subsidized rent households with market rate rent households in communities with strong educational infrastructure — Columbia Residential has seen some successes in crime reduction for some of its properties, while keeping them at least partially low-income accessible. Most notably, The Villages of East Lake, which is co-owned by Columbia Residential, was built to replace a demolished housing project that had once been nicknamed “Little Vietnam” for its status as a gang warzone. The Villages, in spite of some speedbumps and controversies, has received national attention as a model for future crime reduction and relief from cycles of poverty.
Columbia Residential has also been celebrated for offering affordable, independent senior living in MARTA-accessible locations that would normally be out of the price range of seniors looking to stay mobile and active without driving.
Unfortunately, while it’s hard to fault Columbia Residential for not thinking big enough, the company’s actual operations haven’t always appeared to line up with its stated values.
The Company’s Handling of Problems Has Been Called into Question More than Once
Currently, Columbia Residential boasts a concerning F rating from the Better Business Bureau (BBB). The stated reason for the grade is a failure to respond to complaints filed against the business. The BBB isn’t the only entity to report a lack of responsiveness to issues on Columbia Residential’s part either.
In March of 2019, residents of Columbia Senior Residences at Edgewood reached out to the press for help, stating that their requests for necessary building maintenance had gone unanswered.
Although Columbia Residential did respond to a journalist’s request for comment, stating that all work orders of a serious nature had been completed and that the building had never been without at least one working elevator, the residents told another story. Multiple seniors reported feeling dismissed or taken advantage of due to their age, and their complaints about the building included leaks, burnt out lightbulbs that left one 75-year-old using an unlit shower, and complete elevator outages that forced less mobile residents to rely on being helped up and down the stairs.
If true, these oversights don’t bode well for the company’s ability to protect against crime — a service often considered more difficult or superfluous than protecting against accidents, such as falls in the shower or on the stairs.
Columbia Residential Has Been Implicated in Possible Unethical Practices Dating Back a Decade
Ignoring resident complaints is not the most unsavory thing Columbia Residential has been accused of in the course of becoming a leading provider of partially subsidized housing. In 2004, Alphonso Jackson, a former partner/consultant of Columbia Residential, was confirmed as Secretary of HUD. According to his financial disclosure forms, Columbia Residential still owed him between $250,000 and $500,000 for past services.
Representatives of HUD claim that Jackson recused himself from any decisions that might affect his former company’s ability to pay him, yet shortly after his confirmation, both Columbia Residential and its sister company, Columbia Highlands, began receiving large amounts of work from HUD and the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO), which operates under HUD’s oversight. To make matters more worrisome, in 2006, a HANO consultant who also worked for Columbia Highlands pled guilty to accepting bribes for signing off on construction work.
In 2007, federal investigation began into Jackson’s potential conflicts of interest and alleged corruption, including but not limited to his relationship with Columbia Residential. The next year, he resigned from his position as Secretary of HUD, citing personal reasons, though anonymous members of HUD speculated that he was surrounded by too much controversy to continue doing his job.
These sorts of high-level underhanded dealings might not sound like they’d directly affect ordinary residents, but if the allegations are accurate, they do represent serious reason to worry about the company’s overall behavior. When illegal monetary gains are being made off of any endeavor, especially one intended to serve the public good like a HUD-supported project, it’s usually a safe bet that increasing those gains will take precedence over following the law in other ways, such as by investing in safe, secure housing.
Crime Clusters Where Property Management Allows It To
Conventional wisdom states that there are high-crime areas and low-crime areas, and that there’s not much a resident or property owner can do about living in a high-crime area. However, studies show that crime tends to cluster around individual properties, rather than general areas, depending on that property’s managerial policies. Even were this not the case, crime is more foreseeable in high-crime areas, thereby increasing a property owner’s responsibility to protect against it.
With that in mind, there are certain Columbia Residential complexes with track records of crime that are worthy of particular scrutiny.
In May of 2018, a woman was charged with assault, aggravated assault, and burglary, following an altercation with her daughter at Columbia Brookside. According to the daughter, she had caught her mother and a male accomplice attempting to steal appliances from her apartment, which she believed her mother planned to sell for drugs. When she confronted them, the daughter says her mother became violent before leaving the apartment, and then attempted to run her over while she was taking note of the vehicle’s plates.
This was not the last violent incident reported to have occured at Columbia Brookside, nor the worst. Five months later, police responded to a call at the complex. The officers reported seeing a man holding a gun to a woman’s head outside the building, shooting her in front of them, and then shooting himself non-fatally in the face. The woman, a resident of the complex, was the man’s ex-girlfriend’s cousin. According to police, she had been assisting the ex-girlfriend in escaping an abusive relationship with him.
That shooting in particular was far from unpredictable. In addition to the murder, the suspect was charged with assaulting the victim with a crowbar and a knife two months earlier, and on the day of the murder, police received a call from the ex-girlfriend, who believed the suspect had just broken into her house.
Even after this fatal ordeal, Columbia Brookside, and particularly its parking lot, have continued to be a site of violence. In January of 2019, the complex suffered a drive-by shooting in the early hours of the morning. The suspect arrested for that shooting was one of three suspected gang members that police believe to be behind a series of armed robberies in the area.
Inadequate Security Complaints Have Been Met with Denial
A mother living in another of Columbia Residential’s more problematic complexes, Columbia Village, turned to the press in 2015, reporting that her van had been stolen three times in five months. The woman went on to say that, while the van had made its way back to her, two of the seats had not, including one that was custom-fitted for her son, who has special needs. In response to a reporter’s request for comment, management replied that security was provided at the complex and that the gates were functioning correctly.
The woman, on the other hand, raised the obvious question of why, when the crime was so repetitive and predictable, management had not been able to prevent it, or even catch it on the security cameras.
The situation at Columbia Village appears not to have improved in the past few years, either. In March of 2019, a self-professed gang member pled guilty to aggravated assault and false imprisonment after blocking in a tow truck driver with another vehicle at Columbia Village and threatening to kill him, along with a maintenance worker from the complex itself. In a video captured by a bystander, his threats included having his gang “light up” the entire complex.
This incident was also no surprise; a police officer living at the complex reported that the man had caused problems before, arguing with employees while displaying a gun in his waistband.
The Stoddard Firm Has Experience with Security Negligence in General, and Columbia Residential in Particular
Finding justice can be particularly challenging in negligent security cases, due to the fallacious assumption that crime can’t be prevented. When taking action in response to negligent security, it’s crucial to have an expert in your corner.
The Stoddard Firm is made up of passionate, knowledgeable professionals who know how to discuss landlord responsibility and security negligence in terms juries and judges understand and respect. We believe in holding corporations accountable when their corner-cutting results in injury and death, and that includes neglecting necessary security precautions.
We’re also locals, with an intimate knowledge not only of Georgia law but of the Atlanta metropolitan area, its properties and companies, and their habits and histories.
If you’ve been injured or lost a loved one due to inadequate security at a Columbia Residential property, or any apartment complex, for that matter, give us a call at 678-RESULT, or reach out through our online chat function. We’re standing by to provide you with a completely free consultation on your case and next steps.