The former owner of a downtown Salt Lake apartment complex was charged with criminal mischief after police linked him to extensive vandalism on a building he used to own.
Investigating officer Steve Cheever said Joe Erickson was booked Friday at about 11 p.m. on the charge, a third-degree felony.The vandalism prompted building inspectors to condemn the building near 500 South and 500 East, forcing low-income tenants to seek shelter elsewhere. Damage estimates range up to $100,000.
The Central City Apartments were condemned after building inspectors saw that an exterior wall had been demolished with a sledgehammer and other heavy industrial tools, said Richard Brown, who bought the buildings July 20.
Erickson owned the building for 16 years and lost the housing complex by foreclosure earlier this year. Brown purchased the buildings at a trustee's auction for $350,000. He had plans to upgrade the older buildings to offer low-cost housing units, he said.
Tenants interviewed said they did not see or hear anyone breaking down the wall.
Erickson could not be reached for comment.
Because of the damage, Brown said he doesn't know if, financially, he will be able to continue the renovations.
"If it becomes so expensive to renovate them, I'll have no choice but to knock them down," he said. "I've put everything I have into this. If I can't make it go, I'll be just as homeless as the tenants are now. If this (the vandalism) wouldn't have happened, the renovations would've gone like clockwork."
He said he didn't know why Erickson might have vandalized the property.
"Why would somebody do this? I don't know. I guess it is just vindictiveness," he said. "All I want to do is fix it up nice and offer a nice, affordable place to live. When we get done, the city will want this here."
Brown said the buildings needed work when he purchased them. The cracked windows, ragged carpets and broken fixtures needed to be replaced, he said.
Because of the poor condition of the buildings and the renovation plans, Brown said, he served eviction notices to the tenants two weeks ago. Few, if any, paid much attention, he said.
The residents received similar notices June 1 when the building was to be vacated because Erickson's business license had been revoked, said Craig Spangenberg, Salt Lake housing and zoning officer.
"Some moved out when they received the June 1 notice, but I don't know how many," Spangenberg said. "I guess they figured they didn't have to move until they were pushed."
Denice Giersz, 43, has lived at Central City Apartments for 20 years. She said she was shocked at the condemnation.
"Sure, my apartment needs work," she said. "But I paid the rent. It's my place. If something was broken, I would complain or fix it myself."
Giersz said she never received either eviction notice.
"I never received it personally. I heard about it through the grapevine, but I don't pay attention to what is said through the grapevine. Other than what I heard I had no idea."
Giersz and about 10 other tenants said they had no place to go but the streets.
Sharon Abbeglen, Community Action Program housing director, said several of the tenants and their belongings have been relocated to other housing units in the city. The LDS Church has offered to pay for the other residents to stay at a local motel until housing can be furnished, she said.
Giersz said she wants to go back to her apartment.
"I picked the place. I'm not the only homeless person and I am not being greedy, but I just want my apartment back."
Brown said the vandalism set the renovations back about six months.