As the water bill at Ralston Towers has gone unpaid for the third time this year, a local attorney is now calling for criminal prosecution of the owners of the troubled low-income apartment building in downtown Columbus.
News 3 told you earlier this week, New Jersey owners PF Holdings has not paid the water bill and it will be disconnected next month if it’s not paid.
We now know that PF Holdings owes the utility more than $52, 553.63 for the June and July bills. News 3 obtained that information from the Columbus Water Works through the Georgia Open Records Act.
“It’s unbelievable,” said attorney Charles Gower. “I was talking to some of the residents a while ago and what they said they ought to do is instead of taking them down and putting them up, they should put a cover on them because they will be back up in a few more months. I don’t understand it. It seems like the folks in New York feel like they are above the law. They don’t have to do what the rest of us have to do.”
Gower won a $125 million wrongful death verdict against the owners of the Ralston in July for the death of resident Charles Hart. He died in July 2017 in a room that was nearly 100 degrees. The Ralston’s owners are appealing that verdict.
“And, it’s wrong,” Gower said.
“Instead, they have hired more lawyers and are trying to get the judge to throw it out,” Gower said. “But they won’t pay the water bill. … They know what they are doing. This is not a mistake. They have no conscience. They probably need some criminal prosecution.”
Attorneys for PF Holdings have told News 3 they will not comment during the appeals process. After this summer’s trial, attorneys would not comment. Local management also declined to comment.
This is the third time this year that Columbus Water Works has given the Ralston’s residents notice of the owner’s failure to pay.
It comes as the ownership is under intense fire from two congressmen for the living conditions inside the 269-unit complex.
Republican Drew Ferguson and Democrat Sanford Bishop have called on HUD Secretary Ben Carson to allow the residents to move out immediately and carry their federal housing subsidies with them. A spokesman for Ferguson’s office says the congressmen have been told that likely won’t happen.
HUD has given the owners 60 days to make the place safe, sanitary, and decent. If drastic improvements are not made by the end of September, HUD will take action against the owner.
In a July inspection, the Ralston scored a 42 on a 100-point scale. That is 18 points below failing.