As one of Houston's wealthiest neighborhoods, River Oaks is home to enormous houses and fancy cars — and apparently a deteriorating high-rise, too.
River Oaks Luxury Apartments is a 17-story complex located in the 3400 block of Westheimer near Buffalo Speedway that is apparently falling apart at the seams.
"It was horrifying. It was just horrifying," former resident B.K. Smith tells KHOU Ch. 11. "If you tell people the reality of living there they either think you're insane for living there, or that can't possibly be or that you are certainly being dramatic and exaggerating."
Smith says that speaking with management about the apparent problems with the complex was useless, and that during the four years she lived at the high-rise, there were 14 different managers.
"No water, no air, insufficient plumbing," she says.
"If you tell people the reality of living there they either think you're insane for living there, or that can't possibly be or that you are certainly being dramatic and exaggerating."
KHOU investigated the issue further and recorded video of water dripping from the ceiling into an apartment. According to the tenant, it was the second leak in a month. Investigators also viewed water dripping from the light fixtures in the lobby onto the floor.
Smith said she went without air conditioning for 14 days last May, ultimately leading to her getting out of her lease with the aid of a lawyer.
According to inspection reports from the Houston Fire Department, inspectors found in January that the high-rise had no working fire alarm system for a month.
"It's not just a danger to citizens and occupants, it's also a danger to firefighters," Captain Ruy Lozano, public information officer for HFD, tells KHOU.
Over the last few years, River Oaks Luxury Apartments has been cited for multiple fire safety problems. Unfortunately, the complex is unlikely to be shut down as there is a complicated legal process required to remove residents from such a large high-rise.
"It's very difficult to shut down an occupancy because of one [violation] — what are you going to do with residents that quick in a high-rise? That's a large amount of people," Lozano says.
Jeffrey J. Cohen is the CEO of Boston-based company Metropolitan Properties of America, which has a subsidiary that owns the high-rise. Nick Connors, a representative for MPA, released the following statement when asked for comment about the safety issues:
“The River Oaks High-rise is an historic address that we have worked hard to maintain and improve since acquiring the property. Our highest priority is to protect the health, safety and well-being of our residents and we back that commitment with a 24-hour concierge and a full staff to respond to any concerns reported by residents. We are proud of the work of our staff and partners do to ensure the safety and well-being of the residents and the property every day.”
Connors insists that the fire alarm system in the building is now working and says any leaks are identified and repaired. He did confirm the high management turnover.
The investigation has led HFD to re-examine how often they inspect high-rise buildings. At the moment, each building is inspected every two years, but the department is discussing inspecting certain buildings with repeated violations more frequently.
Inspectors say they will return to the River Oaks Luxury Apartment complex again in the next few weeks.