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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – After having no heat at all since September, tenants at an entire Oklahoma City apartment complex have finally gotten the legal representation they hoped for.

Tenants of the Foxcroft Apartments filed a class action lawsuit Tuesday with the help of an attorney that is representing them pro bono.

Ryan Owens, a contracted attorney with The Bethany Law Center, is working with a legal team to sue the owners of the Foxcroft Apartments, among others. The complex is located at 6810 NW 16th St. in Oklahoma City.

The “ultimate” owner being sued, as Owens puts it, is National Exchange Titleholder 1031 Co.

Owens explained the owner broke Oklahoma law 41 O.S. § 118 (OSCN 2022), Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, which requires a landlord to “maintain in good and safe working order and condition all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning and other facilities and appliances, including elevators, supplied or required to be supplied by him.”

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, sues multiple parties for six counts.

The sixth one asked for a temporary restraining order, which Oklahoma County District Judge Anthony Bonner granted and certified Tuesday.

“[The tenants] now have an order from the District Court of Oklahoma County that they can take back to their landlord and say, you have been ordered by the District Court to turn on the heat and you’ve been ordered by the court to not evict anyone for not paying rent until this lawsuit is resolved,” Owens said.

Owens and his team are taking the case on pro bono.

“It’s unacceptable,” he said of the Foxcroft living conditions. “I mean, you have one of our plaintiffs saying that it got down to 16 degrees in her apartment Saturday night. You can’t live like that.”

He then explained what’s next.

“On January 14th, we’ll be here in Judge Bonner’s courtroom and that’s called a show cause hearing,” he said. “The defendants will have the opportunity to have legal counsel to come in and to make their case as to why they don’t or should not have to turn on the heat for the tenants at Foxcroft Apartments. I can’t wait to hear that argument, quite frankly. They have to provide evidence as to why Judge Bonner shouldn’t make this order permanent.”

An anonymous maintenance worker for Foxcroft told KFOR that Wehner Multifamily, LLC is the company that manages the complex.

KFOR emailed the Regional Director of Operations there and got the following response:

“Our organization began managing Foxcroft apartments very recently. During our initial evaluation of the property, we discovered that the property did not have heat. Taking care of our residents is our top priority and we are actively working to remedy the situation. At this time, I have no further information to provide.”

Owens showed KFOR an email exchange he and his team had with someone associated with National Exchange Titleholder 1031 Co. who claimed to be “part of the ownership group here and certainly offer myself as a direct point of contact to you on this matter.”

In the email, the representative said:

“We recently purchased the property a couple of months ago and have commenced a multi-million dollar renovation which includes, among other things, turning on the heat. Specific to the heat, we’ve been working with a plumbing company who’s been chasing leaks for weeks and we’ve been patching, testing pressure, patching more, testing pressure, etc.  They keep getting chased further down the various lines and we have some sort of a gas line radar test scheduled for January 11th which will permit us to more quickly locate lines that we can test and repair/replace.  We are trying to expedite this. I’ve communicated to management that anyone that wants to leave be allowed to leave with no repercussion for breaking their lease.”  

Owens did not like their response.

“We’ve reached out to the owners of the property to ask for assistance for the heat to be turned on, and the response we get back is those people can just move,” he said. “They’re Oklahomans like us and they need people like us to speak for them. They’re on a fixed income. They don’t have the ability to just change their life. So, we’re here to help.”

The City of Oklahoma City has been monitoring the situation.

Spokeswoman Kathy Yager said they’ve fined the apartment owner they have on record, Foxcroft Exchange, three times with $180 citations. One was for failure to get an inspection permit for mechanical issues and the other two, given on Dec. 14, 2021 and Jan. 3, 2022, were for failure to provide adequate heat. 

Yager said that’s the extent of what The City can do.

“We have been on site,” she said. “We’re going to stay on site and try to help the tenants. We do know that we’ve seen the contractor on the property, and we know that they’re trying to fix the problem. But in the meantime, we’ll continue to write citations to the property owner. The problem is we can’t force them to fix the heat. All that we can do is continue to write tickets to them and that is the highest number that we can write or the most we can write a citation for.”

Yager said the tenants could go to Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma County or the county health department for further assistance.

The Oklahoma City-County Health Department sent KFOR the following statement when asked about the Foxcroft situation:

“Not having heat in the winter is a horrible situation and we certainly empathize with the apartment tenants. But having access to heat or air conditioning is outside of the regulatory authority of the Oklahoma City-County Health Department. We will continue to collaborate with the city of Oklahoma City on any next steps that would be within our purview.”

Tenant Cathy Chatmon told KFOR she’s elated about the legal progress they made Tuesday.

“I was ecstatic,” she said. “I can’t even find the word I’m looking for, but I was very, very happy.”

Even with this win, her neighbor Kimberly Banks hates the cold days that seemingly lie ahead as they wait for heat to return. 

“When it started snowing [this weekend] and the temperatures dropped, it was miserable,” she shared. “I’m dreading [this] Wednesday and Thursday because of the temperature drop. I’m dreading it. Hopefully, I won’t freeze.”

The first scheduled showing in court for the Foxcroft tenants and the defendants they’ve sued is Jan. 14 at 10 a.m.