Brandywine gets one-month water extension for residents to relocate

Brandywine Condominiums’ water was restored Tuesday — but only long enough for residents to find other living arrangements, said Stephen Ayers, an owner of the majority of the occupied units.

The complex’s water was shut off Monday because the owners owe $125,000 in delinquent sewer bills.

Ayers, who owns 56 of the 70 occupied units at Brandywine, met with city-parish officials Tuesday morning to negotiate a deal to restore the water service. But after a three-hour closed meeting, Ayers said, the involved parties were able to negotiate only a temporary agreement that restores water until the end of the month in exchange for $10,000.

“There isn’t enough money to continue operating Brandywine,” Ayers said. “We’ve made arrangements to give them time to move, and then that is pretty much the end of Brandywine.”

Mary Roper, parish attorney, said Ayers was offered a deal that would have allowed him to pay 25 percent of the overdue balance plus the current bill, which totals $37,670, and would have given him 12 months to pay the remaining balance.

But Ayers said he and the condo association that pays the bills for the complex will not be able to pay the debt.

The water bills cannot be paid individually by residents because the complex has only one water meter, Roper said. That means that even residents who own their condos will not be able to restore their water.

“It’s unusual in the sense that there’s only one meter,” Roper said. “That’s what created this problem, that the individual owners cannot pay their bills and get their water back on. It has to come through the association.”

She said that under current building codes such developments are required to use individual water meters for apartments, but to retrofit Brandywine with individual meters would cost thousands of dollars and would have to be paid for by the owners.

Brandywine condo owners and renters have said they’ve been paying their condo fees, which are supposed to cover utilities.

But Ayers said Brandywine’s bills are “twice as much as we’re taking in.”

He said the sewer bill for about 60 apartments costs about $10,000 a month, primarily because of plumbing problems that he also couldn’t afford to fix.

“That’s what it boils down to here — there’s just not enough money there,” Ayers said. “Residency is low. Collections are low. You can’t get blood from a turnip.”

Only 70 of the 300 units are occupied at the complex, which is located on Darryl Drive, near South Choctaw Drive and North Sherwood Forest.

Lazarus McDaniel, who invested in two units at Brandywine and has been paying his bills, said he was pleased the city-parish agreed to the one-month extension because there are children living in the apartments.

“These kids there don’t have water to take a bath, they can’t even go to school clean,” he said.

He said mismanagement by Ayers and the condo association will hurt his business venture as well as others who own property.

“You make investments, sometimes they’re successful and sometimes they’re not, but this is one investment where the control got taken away,” he said.

Francis La Fleur, who lives in Brandywine, said he can’t afford to leave.

“I’m retired. My wife is in a nursing home,” he said. “I already paid for 30 years on this house and now it’s paid up. I can’t just get up and move to another place.”

Randy Ligh, an assistant parish attorney, said the city-parish cannot force the owners to leave their homes, unless the property is determined to be a danger or hazard to public safety or health.

If everyone moves out of the complex and it’s in a “state of dilapidation,” then the city-parish could ask the Metro Council to consider it for condemnation, Roper said.

If Ayers is unable to repay the bill, Roper said, the city-parish will sue him to recover the delinquent funds.

She said her office is not investigating Ayers on criminal charges, but she noted that representatives from the state Attorney General’s office attended the Tuesday meeting.

Laura Gerdes Colligan, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said in an e-mail that she could not comment beyond confirming that her office is “looking into consumer complaints and/or fair housing complaints.”

She urged anyone with complaints regarding Brandywine Condominiums to contact her office at 1-800-351-4889