COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The owners of Latitude Five25 – an apartment complex plagued by bedbugs, broken elevators, asbestos, and burst pipes and deemed unsafe to live in – will pay nearly $4.4 million and immediately forfeit ownership of the properly, a court ruled Thursday.
Paxe Latitude, the management company that owns the 400-unit apartment complex on Sawyer Boulevard, was held in contempt of court Tuesday for its failure to abide by multiple provisions of an agreement it entered into with the city of Columbus. The court found that the owners failed to sell the property, obtain necessary work permits to repair extensive water damage and remediate asbestos, and have failed to reimburse any of the costs incurred by residents caused by a Christmas day evacuation when pipes burst.
In her opinion, Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Stephanie Mingo denounced Paxe Latitude for its repeated failure to address ongoing issues at the complex, things she oft-referred to as the “direct result of the severe and gross neglect of ownership and management.”
“The devastating and traumatic upending of the lives of the tenants of Latitude Five25 was completely preventable,” Mingo wrote.
Read Mingo’s full opinion below.
An agreement Paxe Latitude entered into with the city required the owners to sell the property, pay off more than $300,000 in outstanding bills to utility companies and obtain necessary work permits, including from the Environmental Protection Agency, to repair water damage and handle asbestos. The court found that owners completed none of these requirements – and in fact hired contractors who failed to comply with law or industry standards when handling asbestos.
“This abject failure to properly handle those materials led to dangerous asbestos fibers being released into the environment, including the common areas and the personal living spaces of the tenants,” Mingo wrote. “This inexcusable neglect likely means that many possessions belonging to the tenants, especially ‘soft items,’ cannot be decontaminated and will likely be lost forever.”
Attorneys for Paxe Latitude attempted to retroactively modify the agreement with the city, claiming owners did not know when they entered into the agreement that there was asbestos and mold at the property. Mingo rejected the motion, writing that they “should have known” and that the presence of both were the “direct results of Defendants’ own negligence.”
The hundreds of former residents of Latitude Five25 have been displaced for nearly two months, after the towers were left without heat, potable water or working elevators. The city, Franklin County and nonprofit organizations have banded together to provide housing assistance and resources to residents, but the owners have yet to pay any of the $1.7 million that’s been spent, according to the ruling.
Before the evacuation, Latitude Five25 was the site of more than 1,000 calls to police between Jan. 7, 2020, and Jan. 6, 2022, according to court documents. Overdoses, stabbings, fights and regular calls to shootings plagued the towers, the city’s complaints alleged. They also listed roach infestations, bedbugs, busted pipes, water damage, broken doors and broken windows in housing inspector reports.
In a statement, Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein called Latitude Five25 owners “unfit to continue operation.”
“The City will do everything in its power to ensure these owners pay this judgement, including holding each of them personally liable if we need to. They spent years ruining the lives of tenants. They need to be held accountable. Pay up and get out.”
In holding Paxe Latitude in contempt, Mingo ordered owners comply with the following:
- Relinquish the property to a receiver, to be chosen by Lument, the property’s lender
- Pay $2.5 million to the court by March 3 to compensate the former tenants of Latitude Five25, subject to adjustment by the court.
- Pay a $1.13 million contempt fine to Columbus by March 13, which includes an outstanding water bill of $180,000
- Pay a $750,000 fine to Franklin County by March 13.
- Pay the full balance of all utility bills by April 13.
Tenant compensation shall take priority over the other fines, the court ruled. All parties will return to court at noon on May 11 for a status hearing.