COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — From the exterior, not much has changed at Colonial Village since it came into a new developer’s hands in March. There are still boarded-up properties and trash, and the grass needs to be mowed.

But changes are going on behind the scenes at the east Columbus property on Rand Avenue that occupies 34 parcels and 96 buildings.

Receivership in the hands of developer Robert J. Weiler Sr. heralded positive changes for residents, City Attorney Zach Klein said at the time: “Residents have suffered far too long, and now, help is here.”

NBC4 attempts a tour of Colonial Village

NBC4 made repeated requests since March 29 through the City Attorney’s office, and through the attorney for Weiler, to visit the property of 508 units.

Weiler has shown 30 parties of interested buyers through the property with more scheduled, according to his report to the court.

During an unannounced visit by NBC4, multiple people who wanted to speak were intercepted by the property manager or security. Several residents did speak, though, all under the condition of anonymity.

N Forcers hired to secure Colonial Village

N Forcers began on site March 14, hired by the developer. It provides basic security, removes inoperable vehicles, identifies new vacancies in the units and checks out signs of break-ins to boarded units, court documents show.

One resident said they felt safer at Colonial Village because a lot of the problem tenants have moved out. Another said they didn’t feel safe, that security guards sat outside the rental office chatting rather than patrolling the premises.

Police reports for cruiser district 91, which includes Colonial Village, for April show no crimes reported there.

This is a massive improvement to a property plagued by crime. In its complaint against previous owner Apex Colonial, the City of Columbus said police visited the property over 4,000 times, 500 for violent incidences in 18 months from Jan. 2018 to June 2019.

Maintenance woes

The most consistent complaint was about the maintenance. A couple of people said there was only one maintenance person.

Court documents show it’s been difficult to retain maintenance staff. According to the First Report of Receiver filed in Franklin County Court of Common Pleas:

“As of approximately 30 days into the receivership, the maintenance staff consisted of five members, including a supervisor, lead technician, two general technicians, and a grounds worker.

“Each of them worked 40 hours per week, with at least one person on call to cover emergency matters during weekends and off hours. Unfortunately, after it became clear that they would need to engage in hard work at the Property, the maintenance supervisor and a technician quit their employment.”

Hayes Gibson, the company in charge of managing the property, has been interviewing replacements and hiring temporary staff, court records show.

Roaches, rodents, bed bugs

Six weeks is a short time to make fixes. The receiver’s report to the court verified “interior units suffer from a variety of ailments, including: bed bugs, rodent infestation, roach infestation, water damage, holes/cracks in ceilings and walls, non-functional heat or air, broken doors and windows, broken locks, floor damage, and missing life and safety equipment.”

The exterior is also in bad shape, with broken windows, bare and rotted wood, and other maintenance problems.

One resident, who said his previous home was a storage unit, was happy to live at Colonial Village. Many residents come from Community Shelter Board and Columbus Metropolitan Housing Association’s Housing Choice Voucher Program.

Problems with prior owner Apex Colonial

Apex Colonial owed $800,000 to the City of Columbus for public utilities that resulted in shutoff notices to tenants for electricity, water, and sewer services, court documents show.

Weiler also said that Apex Colonial did not produce a single document directly to the receiver at the time of the report, and hampered access to the rental manager for rental software and files.

“Even the rent roll has proven to be unreliable,” the receiver said in court documents, describing the “painstaking process of updating the rent roll. They contacted tenants to determine their status, visited various units, engaged the help of security personnel to identify vacant units, and took other steps to obtain an accurate roll of tenants.”

In addition, the school board wants more than $36 million in back taxes.

The flip

No doubt the developer has come into a challenging property at Colonial Village and has been asked to create an enormous number of improvements.

The remit of the receiver, according to court documents, is “to take control of and manage the Property, prepare it for a sale, and ultimately sell the Property free and clear of all claims, liens, and

Ohio Revised Code 2735.04 allows the developer to “maximize the return from the property to the receivership estate, taking into account the potential cost of holding and operating the property.”

Weiler’s job is to get Colonial Village into shape to sell, and maximize return.

Selling Colonial Village

Given the appetite for selling the property, how will the people of Colonial Village know that help has actually arrived?

The receiver’s order gives a timeline for fixing the code violations, employing staff and security, inspecting units, and interviewing potential buyers.

Part of qualifying to bid on the property will be a meeting with the city to discuss Colonial Village and the buyer’s plans for the property.

The eventual buyer for Colonial Village will need a business plan, the commitment to provide tenant-assistance services and affordable housing, plus front-office staff, maintenance, and security, according to the Motion of Receiver for Approval of Sale Procedures.