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Colonial Village Residents Eager For Change As Columbus, Lender Sues Troubled East Side Complex

Eugene Hansard standing outside his home.
Nick Evans
Eugene Hansard standing outside his home.

Eugene Hansard lives in the end unit of a four apartment building at Colonial Village on Columbus' east side. All three of the neighboring units are boarded up.

“These windows right here,” he says turning to point, “the six at the top, I had to gorilla glue them back in because when you close the door the window panes was falling out.”

Hansard has lived here for about two years, and said initially the complex wasn’t that bad. But maintenance, trash and infestation issues piled up one after the other.

In 2019, Columbus code enforcement officials went through the entire complex with a fine-toothed comb, racking up more than 400 violations. In July of this year they went back and found more than 200 described in court as “substantially the same types of violations.”

According to Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein the owners still aren’t fixing the problem and it’s time for them to go.

“The measures that we tried to work with them on eventually failed so we had to draw a line in the sand and that’s essentially where we are today,” Klein said.

He explains the owners are behind on their mortgage, and the lender actually approached the city seeking help to place the property in receivership. Essentially the bank wants an outside caretaker to step in and run the facility so that the bank can recoup as much of its investment as possible. They’re recommending Bob Weiler, who among other projects helped develop Polaris.

Weiler has contributed to Klein’s campaign, but he has given to a number of other local politicians as well. Klein said he had nothing to do with Weiler’s selection. Even if the court signs off on the transfer Klein warns the transition won’t be painless.

“I think the reality is there may be buildings within the colonial village complex that need to be razed and torn down. There are some that can and should be salvaged,” he said.

In a tight housing market with limited affordable options, Klein said, they have to proceed cautiously to avoid displacing residents.

“The practical reality is there are hundreds and hundreds of people that live in Colonial Village,” Klein said.

For Hansard’s part, any change in ownership would be an improvement.

“As far as them switching to a different owner, they need to hurry up and do that,” he said. “Because it’s not fair to us. I haven’t even been able to use my stove for like four months. The magnets off of the back of a thing you stick on a refrigerator? That’s how I close my freezer—because it doesn’t have the stick to it.”

Neglected maintenance is a common complaint at Colonial Village. A neighbor who wanted to remain anonymous explained she’s taking classes online at the University of Akron and living with her mother who works from home.

“Currently our electric is out in our house, only in one half of the house. And we’ve been calling and calling and they’ve said they’re going to get an electrician out here and they never did. They only come in to flip the circuit and that is it.” Hall said.

“It’s been four or five months now,” she explains. “We’re running electric cords through three outlets in our house.”

A company called Apex Colonial OH currently owns the complex. It’s an apparent subsidiary of Apex Equity Group, headquartered in New Jersey. Oron Zarum is listed as the subsidiary’s owner and Aron Puretz is president of the parent company.

Both helped secure the loan to purchase Colonial Village and are named in the lawsuits filed by Klein and the lender EFM Transfer Agent. WOSU reached out to Zarum and Puretz through their attorney and Apex Equity group without response.

Klein said handing a property as large as Colonial Village to a receiver is rare but might serve as model.

“The lender coming to us on a magnitude of this scale, the number of buildings the number families, is unprecedented,” Klein said. “This is really is a first of its kind given the enormity and the complexity of the situation.”

And perhaps most unsettling, that model might be needed. Colonial Village isn’t an isolated incident.

Real estate businesses connected to Zarum and Puretz have seen similar complaints of neglect in Illinois, Indiana and Georgia.

In Chicago, federal housing officials withheld rent subsidies at a building owned by Zarum citing numerous code violations. In Georgia, a jury awarded $125 million dollars in damages as part of a wrongful death lawsuit after a man died in a building owned by a company connected with Puretz. And in Indiana, the attorney general is suing a Zarum company, and like Columbus, attempting to place the property in the hands of a receiver.

Puretz’s company Apex Equity Group owns buildings in six other states.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.