Once methamphetamine residue is wiped clean from air ducts and vents, Peg Harper wants to return to her former ground-floor apartment in Longmont’s Cloverbasin Village.
“I love that unit,” she said. “I will not give it up.”
On Oct. 11, she and her husband, Gary, were forced out within five hours’ notice after Longmont code enforcers received test results taken from unit 5-104, caddy-corner to the former residence of a woman charged with elder abuse, and in part, meth use.
“I figured, we’re still alive,” Harper said. “I want that unit back.”
The Harpers’ unit was the fifth condemned by Longmont, and three more units in Building 5 have since been declared meth-infected by Boulder County Public Health’s industrial hygienist Michael Richen.
Richen said he doesn’t expect to find meth in any other apartment, after detecting it in rooms of three apartments and in the HVAC units of six others nearby unit 5-101. But he said he’s never seen contamination this “extensive.”
“I’ve seen units on the side affected, like one unit affected…but not this many,” Richen said.
The displaced tenants of Building 5, were suddenly pressed to either relocate across the complex, temporarily reside in a motel or break their lease entirely to find housing elsewhere.
Individual situations vary, but each evacuated apartment is awaiting cleanup.
Denise Todd, spokeswoman for Denver-based Mission Rock Residential, which manages Cloverbasin Village, said as soon as they received positive test results, they contracted with a vendor for meth remediation.
“It’s certainly an unfortunate incident when something like this happens,” Todd said. “We take our guidance from the board of health and we do everything that they tell us to do. It certainly has a financial impact, but our main concern is looking out for the best interest of our residents.”
Todd said tenants can expect to return in between seven and 10 days, after a cleanup estimated to cost $20,000. She said she does not know what all is included in the remediation.
“We really do rely on the experts and the city to guide us,” she said. “It would be remiss for us to try to understand every aspect of this.”
Gil Allarid’s was the first unit tested and subsequently condemned.
For six years, unit 5-201 was where he lived with his granddaughter, daughter and daughter’s boyfriend, until he was asked to leave Aug. 26.
Prior to the condemnation, Allarid said he had contacted Boulder County Public Health with questions about why unit 5-101 below him — where a woman named Shela Wagner once lived — was being gutted.
Wagner had been arrested in February after she was investigated for theft from the elderly man in her care. The home where he lived in the 1400 block of South Terry Street also was condemned, after tests showed it 105 times above the acceptable limit for methamphetamine contamination, according to past reports.
She is scheduled to be sentenced in the case in December, though there are no direct drug charges pending or expected by Longmont police, Detective Stephen Desmond said.
Todd said this incident was a first for the complex, which is a participant of the police’s Crime Free Multi-Housing Program.
“In property management, there’s so much that happens and when it’s someone’s private home behind closed doors, it’s like anything can happen,” Todd said.
Allarid said he had his suspicions about activities in the apartment below him, and requested his own apartment be tested.
“When there’s this type of contamination, it could seep into the walls and it could affect other units,” he said.
As 64-year-old Allarid was driving to meet a friend for dinner on the last Friday in August, he found out he would have to vacate his place within a few hours.
Meth had in fact contaminated his apartment, with levels the highest in the guest room bathroom and air intake system.
“That was the bathroom my granddaughter and I used every day,” he said.
According to a 45-page methamphetamine preliminary assessment released Aug. 22 by Lakewood-based DS Environmental Consulting Inc., in the decontamination of Wagner’s former unit, the combustion air intake for the furnace in Wagner’s and Allarid’s unit were in close proximity to the attic, which was sampled and found to be contaminated with methamphetamine above the cleanup standard.
Each of the eight condemned units has received a similar report, detailing contamination levels and hotspots as well as recommendations to clean furniture and clothing.
He said the four of them left behind bigger items, such as mattresses, and opted instead for pillows, blankets, towels and other essentials, not knowing when they could return.
Most of their items are still in the apartment,he said, which awaits meth remediation.
After temporarily residing in a townhouse at the complex, they found other housing in north Longmont, where they’re still sleeping on air mattresses.
Replacing the mattresses will be expensive, Allarid said.
He said he has hired legal counsel to help him seek up to $7,500 in reimbursement for moving costs and the furniture they’ll permanently leave behind out of precaution, even though the report said it should be clear.
But most of all, he said he is concerned about the health and safety of his family and neighbors.
Units 5-102, 5-103 and 5-202 were the next three apartments condemned by Michelle Cogswell, Longmont substandard housing inspector, on Sept. 30.
Just two months prior, Tyrone Rivers had moved into unit 5-102 with his family. He said testers sampled the air quality and not long after they were asked to move due to meth contamination in the HVAC system, but not in the apartment itself.
“They basically told us to pack for a mini vacation,” Rivers said.
The Rivers bought air mattresses and were relocated to a vacant apartment, where they plan to stay.
“They haven’t told us anything else,” Rivers said. “It’s just what it is now.”
The most recent tenant of unit 5-103, who wished to remain unnamed, said she also was relocated to a vacant unit. The woman — who moved in after Wagner was arrested — said she has been given a discount on rent and provided with free utilities in the meantime.
She said she was told fire insurance would cover the cost of damaged belongings, but she does not think it’s fair.
“It’s not a fire,” she said. “It was next door to the cleanup.”
According to the report from unit 5-103, the most meth contamination out of the nine apartments was detected in the master bedroom, master bathroom exhaust fan and supply, living room, kitchen, hallways and guest bedroom.
“It’s possible there was another user,” Richen, Boulder County Public Health industrial hygienist, said. Or it was holes poked in the walls during the gutting of Wagner’s old apartment.
Roger Boyd, former maintenance supervisor and tenant of 5-102, said he was concerned the units close to Wagner’s also were infected, and reported it to the property management. He said he was told testing was too expensive, which is why it went unnoticed until Allarid’s request.
Boyd, upon being fired for what he believes was interpreted as tattling, also had to move out with his wife, who had not been feeling well for the past two months. He thinks it could’ve been meth contamination, but has not proved it.
“I’m not real sure if that was what it was,” Boyd said. “I know she was having lung infections because she never had those before.”
Todd said Boyd was not fired for “whistleblowing.”
Another woman, who lived in a unit on the second floor, said she would be interested in talking about her experience, but not this week because she was waiting to hear back from an attorney.
Third and fourth rounds
The Harpers’ unit was condemned in the third round of notices Oct. 11, along with 5-203 and 5-303.
The couple — in their late 60s — relocated to a Super 8 Motel, where they stayed for 10 days by dwindling savings.
“We chose to come to the motel for me to take care of my husband and for him to take care of me,” Peg Harper said.
But the cost of boarding their dog and paying night to night for a room was too much, so Peg Harper asked the property managers if something could be done.
She said she has limited mobility and her husband is a disabled Vietnam veteran, so relocating has been hard.
On Thursday, they moved into what was an empty unit in Building 12 at the complex. It has minimal furnishings, but Peg Harper said it’s sufficient while their unit is cleaned up.
“We’ve got dishes and pots and pans and probably all the essentials,” Peg Harper said.
She said she was told it will take up to 10 days before they can return to their apartment that’s furnished to their likings, comfortable and dog-friendly.
Having worked in real estate, she said, she understands the apartment complex is doing their best to accommodate everyone’s situations.
“It’s not the kind of thing you run into every day,” she said. “I have to say that out of all the years we’ve lived in that complex and all the different management companies, this company has been the best.”
Two floors above, Jose Silva was asked to pack a week’s worth of belongings, expecting to return soon.
It’s going on two weeks now, but he’s hopeful he can move back in with his girlfriend, Marlene, next week. He said he was told his apartment is scheduled to be cleaned soon.
“It’s a pain in the butt eating on the floor and eating out of paper plates, but other than that we’re OK,” he said.
He said Richen told them with the low-level contamination, he should not be concerned about health. He said the apartment complex, Longmont and Boulder Health have been helpful in answering their questions.
“Our plan was to sign a lease for another year…so I’m glad things worked out for us,” Silva said.
This past Tuesday, unit 5-304 was condemned. Richen expects it will be the last.