After years of racking up fines and being held in contempt for not making repairs, the owners of a crumbling Northeast Austin apartment complex might get out of the city’s cross hairs by selling the land to developers.
Walter Olenick and Rae Nadler-Olenick, owners of two apartment buildings on East 52nd Street just east of Interstate 35, said in a court hearing Friday that they’d agreed to sell the land.
Jonathan Saad, a representative of Danly Properties, said investors with the group intended to buy and redevelop the site — and would help pay to move the residents living there now. The properties have been under contract since April 3 for an undisclosed sum, and the sale is expected to be final by early July, Saad said.
That is, if the developers can reach an agreement with the city about the estimated $800,000 in fines the complex has racked up in recent years. City spokesman Bryce Bencivengo said this week that the city has liens against both buildings.
Inspectors have been citing the two apartment buildings for violations for years. The building at 1127 E. 52nd St. has unrepaired fire damage, a deteriorating joist holding up the second-floor overhang and crumbling supports for staircases, according to city records. At the neighboring building at 1205 E. 52nd St., the wood on the second-floor walkway and overhang is rotting, and the balcony and rooftop cantilevers are damaged, city records state.
Last month, Travis County state District Court Judge Karin Crump ruled there are “dangerous conditions” at the property and residents should be moved as soon as possible due to the safety risks. Residents of the building pay between $400 and $700 a month.
Glen Coleman, a lobbyist representing Saad, said the investors hoped to help with efforts to move the tenants and have started making calls to other apartments with comparable rents. He suggested those efforts could reduce the $600,000 expenditure City Council members approved Thursday to help the tenants move elsewhere.
“We have the resources to help the city’s efforts go more quickly,” Coleman said.
The potential investors already own a property adjacent to the Olenicks’ site, Saad said.
“The goal here would be to create a bigger mixed-use project,” Saad said. “We can’t make any promises, but we would think that ultimately we would be able to include affordable units in our project.”
Saad didn’t detail what kind of agreement he’d like to see with the city on the liens, but called them an issue the investors are still looking to resolve.
“There would be a negotiation involved,” he said.
The Olenicks are moving forward on the sale — but only, they made clear to the judge Friday, because the fines and court decisions against them left them with no choice. When Crump asked Walter Olenick whether he had freely opted to sell the property he replied, “Absolutely not.”
“We’ve been under incredible pressure from the city,” he said. “The pressure is unrelenting, and it’s just overwhelming.”
Walter Olenick angrily declined further comment after the hearing, saying he resented media coverage that made him look “like a slumlord.”
The Olenicks have represented themselves throughout this process, both in court and in property negotiations. Crump urged them to find a lawyer — or, at the very least, a Realtor.
Council Member Greg Casar, whose North Austin District 4 includes the property, said the new buyers have reached out to him but he hasn’t talked to them yet because of the outstanding legal issues. He called it premature to speculate about his support for working with the new developers.
“Obviously I’m committed to having a mixed income 52nd Street, but as far as any kind of development proposal … no option has been taken off the table, and I haven’t seen any serious option put on the table yet,” he said.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct Glen Coleman’s name.