Residents face water cut off

Advocate staff photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK Francis La Fleur walks through Brandywine Condominiums, where he and his wife have lived since 1970. The owner of most of the units in the complex has not paid the water bill and the water may be cut off.
Advocate staff photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK Francis La Fleur walks through Brandywine Condominiums, where he and his wife have lived since 1970. The owner of most of the units in the complex has not paid the water bill and the water may be cut off.

Some residents of the Brandywine Condominiums on Darryl Drive say that if the water is shut off, as the city-parish has threatened to do March 4, they will have no place to go.

In a certified letter dated Jan. 22, the city-parish said the water would be disconnected if owners didn’t pay $109,233.43 in overdue sewer and solid waste user fees by Friday. As of late Friday, no payment had been made at the city-parish’s Service Fee Business Office, said Greta Meche, the Service Fee Manager. Meche cautioned, however, that if a payment was made online, it would not show up in the city-parish’s system until Monday.

Brandywine Condominiums, which at one time had close to 300 units, now has only about 70 occupied apartments, said Randy Ligh, the director of collections for Parish Attorney Mary Roper.

Potholes force cars to slalom through the parking lots, windows in many of the units are boarded up and there is graffiti on some exterior walls.

But Francis La Fleur, who has lived in Brandywine since 1970, doesn’t want to leave.

“I have nowhere to go,” La Fleur said. La Fleur said he received a certified letter for the city-parish that the water would be shut off if the bill was not paid.

La Fleur, unlike many of the residents, owns his apartment. But he has been paying monthly fees to the condominium association to cover his utility bills, he said.

“I pay $306 in condo fees,” he said. “I have paid the fees since 1970.”

Cheryl Sip moved into the complex three days ago.

“I found out yesterday on the news,” Sipp said of the water cut off. “I just had a baby, she’s just 5 days old.”

Sipp, who rents her apartment, said no one mentioned the problem with the water bill to her.

“Why (are) they taking our rent and not paying the bill?” she said. Sipp pays $750 per month for her apartment.

Roper said the city-parish had little choice but to threaten the owners with cutting off water service to the entire complex.

“It’s a weird deal how it was structured,” Roper said of the apartment complex. “There is only one meter.”

The registered letter that the parish sent Jan. 22 was sent to about 60 owners, but Roper said that Dr. Stephen C. Ayers of Lake Charles was the “main owner.”

Ayers owns approximately 56 of the 70 occupied units at Brandywine, Ligh said.

Calls to a cell phone listed for Ayers were not answered and a recorded message said the voice mail had not yet been set up.

The complex has had overdue balances before.

East Baton Rouge Metro Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis said she has helped residents in the past negotiate with Entergy to prevent the complex’s electricity from being cut off.

“I have been dealing with it for three years,” Collins-Lewis said of Brandywine Condominiums.

Ligh said a letter was sent in 2009, when the complex owed $57,223 in overdue sewer and solid waste fees.

In October 2010, the complex had an overdue bill of $35,430, Ligh said.

“We did threaten legal action or disconnection of water,” in a 2010 letter, Ligh said.

In March 2012, the overdue amount was $75,846, Ligh said.

“At one point in time, Dr. Ayers made an informal agreement where he would pay $10,000 per month,” Roper said. “Part of it would go to the regular monthly bill and part of it would go to the delinquency.”

Marsha Hanlon, the city-parish finance director, said Ayers made some payments.

But last year, Ayers reduced his payment from $10,000 to $5,000 “with no consent from the city-parish,” Hanlon said.

“In September, he just quit paying,” Hanlon said.

Hanlon said city officials tried numerous times to contact Ayers.

Friday morning, the apartment manager would not confirm her name and refused to comment beyond saying that Ayers was aware of the situation.

If the bill has not been paid, the city will begin the formal process of requesting the disconnection.

“Our concern was with the people that are in there to give them sufficient time to make alternate arrangements,” Roper said.