By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – A Texas-based property management company under court order to keep tenants’ belongings in apartments damaged by last week’s tornado says misunderstandings started when Tupelo officials banned occupancy in the structures.
Mayor Jason Shelton threatened legal action Friday against Sunridge Management Group if residents of the high-end Vista Ridge apartments had to pay May rent or remove possessions within five days.
A Lee County judge signed an order Friday preventing removal of anything from the apartments just off North Gloster Street at least until a court hearing next week.
“This thing has been a misunderstanding,” Doug Graham, vice president of Sunridge Management Group, said Wednesday. “The picture is we’re some big, bad landlords and we’re not.”
A destructive tornado with 150 mph winds whirled through the area April 28, damaging many residential and commercial properties in the city and county. It also blew out 200 windows and caused other damage at the 160-unit, 10 -building Vista Ridge.
Company management anticipated tenants remaining in their units, but Tupelo code enforcement officers posted signs Thursday identifying the apartments as uninhabitable.
“This structure is unsafe and its occupancy has been prohibited by the code official,” stated orange signs left by a city code enforcement officer.
After the city posted the signs, Tupelo’s spokeswoman issued a two-sentence statement that no one with the city had “issued an order of removal.”
“It’s very conflicting and contradicting,” Graham said. “No wonder everybody’s all confused.”
The property management company also rejects claims it intended to charge rent to tenants while power outages remained.
Shelton and Graham spoke by phone on Friday, with Shelton saying nobody should be forced to leave the apartments.
“He was very unfriendly with me,” Graham said. “I expected a little bit more of a team atmosphere.”
Shelton said Wednesday the city never required residents to leave the property.
“That gentleman and I will just have to have a difference of understanding of what happened,” Shelton. “I spoke to him myself on Friday and asked them to provide in writing assurance no one would be kicked out and they didn’t do it.”
As of today, 32 residents remain in two Vista Ridge buildings as contractors work to make all units ready for tenants.