HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — The city of Harlingen’s iconic Baxter Building was one of the tallest buildings in the Rio Grande Valley, and in 2019 it was sold and renovated.
However, only three years after moving in, some residents said this dream living space has turned into a nightmare.
“I have a lot of underlying conditions, and my doctor even wrote a letter stating that it’s bad for my lungs living in this type of environment,” said Elsa Rodriguez, a current resident and the third person to move into the Baxter Lofts.
Rodriguez explained after the February freeze a pipe burst causing the elevator and lobby to flood. It was the beginning of things falling apart, according to Rodriguez.
“My 9-year-old great-granddaughter took a shower and all of a sudden you have cat litter and I don’t know what else is coming up out of there,” said Rodriguez. “I am a great grandmother and my grandchildren can’t come over, because when they come over, they go homesick.”
At the time of this interview, the managing company was MetroPlains Management LLC, a company that Rodriguez said was not approachable.
“They’re very hostile, they’re rude, they’re prejudice, they think of us as low lives,” said Rodriguez. “The way they deal with their tenants is very poorly, a lot that we have to go through to live here.”
Rodriguez said she believes her apartment has mold and said the windows could play a part in the problem because they are not properly sealed.
Other residents said Rodriguez is not alone, one resident agreed to go on the record with a concealed identity out of fear of being evicted.
“I’ve had to remove most of my clothes from the closet because again the windows are not sealed properly,” said the resident. “It smells disgusting, it’s super hot, and I wash my clothes and I put them in there and when I put them on, I smell it immediately.”
The anonymous resident said their walls sweat due to all the heat coming into their apartment.
They said not only is it hard to breathe, but it is also costing them more money in their electric bills.
“It is causing my light bill to be $200 for an apartment that’s less than 900 square feet,” said the resident.
According to the resident, there is only one maintenance man on site that cannot keep up with all the maintenance requests.
“They’ve put freon, they’ve put some sort of tape, because they said that the air was escaping,” said the resident. “But, I think this should all fall back onto the contractor that they hired to do the renovations for this building.”
ValleyCentral obtained code violation reports from the city of Harlingen from January to September 2021. We received five reports, four reported window leaks, and water damages, and one reported junk vehicles.
We asked MetroPlains Management LLC for an interview. Senior Vice President Theresa Nesbitt denied but responded through email instead.
“As stated previously, we do not have any mold issues. We know that because we have had a professional company monitor the building for mold on an ongoing basis since the february freeze.”Theresa Nesbitt, Senior Vice President of MetroPlains Realty
Nesbitt addressed that a previous tenant, Nathan Pullin, was evicted after he spoke with the media, but for other reasons.
“This individual is unpredictable and poses a threat to both staff and residents, which is why we had to proceed with eviction,” said Nesbitt.
Since the first week of November, Rodriguez said MetroPlains Management has left the Baxter Lofts, and the property management company Mayfair has since taken over.
Both tenants interviewed are Section 8 voucher recipients and are eligible for assistance through the housing authority.
Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid housing attorney, Linley Boone-Almaguer, said though she has not seen the Baxter Lofts, the housing authority does not fund unlivable spaces.
“Now with the voucher holders, there are stringent rights from the housing authority to not to pay out on units that are not meeting health and safety guidelines under the regulation,” said Boone-Almaguer. “Of course, then the problem is—then it is no longer low-income housing.”
If housing finds the space is not up to standard, the tenant must leave, according to Boone-Almaguer.
However, Almaguer said tenants can try sending a certified letter to the landlord themselves first.
“The law says that you must first of, critically important, continue to pay your rent,” said Boone-Almaguer. “What we recommend is that you send a certified or registered mail requesting the repair and dating it, if you do that under the law, then you only have to send on repair request and the landlord has a reasonable time to do the repair.”
The residents at the Baxter Lofts said they are like a family and do not want to leave, but if things do not change soon, they fear they won’t have any other option.
“I don’t know what to do, because I want to love this place but I can’t at the same time because it’s not a safe environment for my child, or me, or anybody,” said the anonymous resident.