The landlord of the Omaha apartment complex shut down by the city last month has offered a deal to several former tenants: If they let him keep their $400 security deposits, he’ll waive cleaning and damage fees for the units they were forced to evacuate.

In a couple of cases shared with The World-Herald, the fees were $1,770 and $3,820 for such things as broken light fixtures, walls that needed to be painted and ripped screens discovered after residents fled with what belongings they could carry as electricity and gas were shut off at the north Omaha complex.

Advocates for the Yale Park Apartments tenants say he’s trying to squeeze the last dime out of residents who lived in substandard apartments.

“They’re condemned buildings,” said Hannah Wyble of Restoring Dignity, the volunteer group that helped tenants file housing complaints with the city that spurred the city inspections and the evacuation in September. “People didn’t have time to clean or make repairs or anything.”

She added, “He’s charging $1,000 for crayons on the wall. What about the mold all over the ceiling?”

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Property owner Kay Anderson said that he’s being more than fair, and that he agreed to return security deposits to tenants who put some effort into cleaning their apartments.

“Most of them said ‘We don’t want any money back,’ ” Anderson said. “They’re just such kind people.”

The former residents are refugees from Myanmar. They were evacuated from the complex at 34th Avenue and Lake Streets on Sept. 20, after inspectors found gas leaks, mold, bedbugs and other conditions that led the city to declare all 100 units uninhabitable. Many were given only a few hours’ notice that they had to leave and wound up in temporary city shelters for up to a week before finding new homes.

The city eventually cited Anderson for nearly 2,000 building code violations.

The World-Herald obtained copies of letters sent to two tenants earlier this month.

In one apartment, city building inspectors found no heat. The furnace didn’t work, and neither did smoke or carbon monoxide detectors. A water heater wasn’t properly installed, and the counters and floors were a mess.

Anderson took his own inventory. On a checklist, he noted that it was dirty. The fridge hadn’t been cleaned out, the kitchen blinds would have to be replaced and pest control was needed.

The tally, according to Anderson? Nearly $4,000 worth of damage.

But in the letter to the tenant, he and his wife, Janae, offered to forgive the damage if the tenant agreed to forfeit a $400 security deposit and $200 in prepaid rent.

Wyble said she was at one family’s house when they received the letter. Not all residents speak English, and even some of those who do may not read English well, she said.

“They were freaking out,” she said. “People are scared because they don’t know. Are they getting a bill?”

Former resident Eh Htoo said her mother received one of the letters. “I feel sad,” she said in a message. “He sent the paper to my mom to charge $3,000.”

Landlords can withhold part or all of security deposits if tenants damage rentals beyond normal wear-and-tear under Nebraska’s landlord-tenant law, said attorney Nicole Jilek, who works on real estate cases. But the situation at Yale Park, where the tenants were removed, adds an extra wrinkle.

“It definitely complicates the legal issues here,” Jilek said.

Anderson said he sent the letters only to some residents — not all — after being notified that a few wanted their security deposits back.

“(An attorney) sent us some letter demanding deposits,” Anderson said. “She’s trying to teach them to be entitled, apparently.”

Gary Fischer, legal counsel for Family Housing Advisory Services, a nonprofit housing advocacy group, said his organization drafted a letter and gave it to Legal Aid of Nebraska, whose employees met with tenants at the shelters to go over their rights to receive security deposits and any prepaid rent.

“I would not advise anyone to pay (Anderson) any money for anything,” he said.

Scott Mertz, a Legal Aid lawyer, said it’s not uncommon for tenants to receive letters telling them they owe thousands. They might agree to give up the security deposit because they fear an even costlier legal battle with their landlord.

“Legal Aid of Nebraska is obviously interested in making sure each of the tenants gets every dollar they’re entitled to,” he said.

Anderson said many residents have turned in their keys and emptied and cleaned their apartments. But others left their apartments and never returned, he said. (Because of the violations found, gas and electricity were cut off at the complex. The city allowed residents to return for their belongings, but they were not allowed to stay overnight.)

Anderson said all residents had a responsibility to clean up and close their accounts.

“It’s the right, respectful thing to do,” he said.

The letters he sent listed how much was owed to tenants for the security deposit and any prepaid rent. Then it included the total amount of deductions and a balance due, plus an itemized checkout sheet that included charges for different types of damage or repairs — damage to the patio blinds cost $50, and kitchen cabinets that weren’t wiped out could cost a tenant $40.

“If there is a balance due instead of a refund, this is money you still owe,” the letter said. “However, if you do not contest this reconciliation we will forgive you of the balance and your account will be closed.”

The letters weren’t intended to intimidate residents, he said, but to “point out that you’ve got thousands of dollars of damage, but we’ll write it off.”

Anderson later hung up on a World-Herald reporter when pressed about former tenants’ responsibility to clean apartments that were cited for leaking toilets and holes in the ceiling.

Anderson and his wife struck a more conciliatory tone in the letters, though they said they remained “deeply troubled by the action of Omaha City and others.” They said they missed their tenants, their “beautiful children ... your singing and smiles and your wonderful way of life.”

“We ask for your forgiveness if we have wronged or offended any of you,” they wrote. “That was never our intent. ... We have always tried to be honest with you and hope this settlement of your deposit is agreeable to you. ... May God bless you always.”

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