Note: This story was updated at 8:55 a.m. Oct. 12.
The last tenant of the Applewood Apartments was moving out Friday when Oak Ridge Today stopped by for an update.
Tenants had been told in early August that the apartments would close September 30.
On Monday, property owner Joe Levitt said he decided in the last 90-120 days to shut down the 13 apartment buildings on Hillside Road and Hunter Circle and board them up. He said it was his understanding that the last tenant was moving out this past Friday.
Levitt said he is 85 and has had health problems, and he’s trying to clean up his estate. Most of his estate will probably go to the University of Tennessee and nonprofit organizations, Levitt said.
“I’ve outlived all the people I need to take care of,” he said.
UT or a nonprofit would prefer if he sells the property, Levitt said. He said he would assume they would want the apartment buildings demolished as well.
“They’re just not in a position to be in the rental business,” Levitt said. “They will liquidate everything.” He said UT could possibly keep some property in the area of the university.
It’s not clear what the next step might be at Applewood Apartments, whether a sale or demolition.
“I own them,” Levitt said. “I can do with them as I please.”
He said he didn’t know if building demolition would end the ongoing litigation with the City of Oak Ridge. He said there are still cases pending in Circuit Court and Chancery Court. The legal code enforcement battle between the city and Levitt started around the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009.
“We’ve been litigating with them ever since,” said Levitt, who continues to practice law although he said he hasn’t needed to work for 50 years. “I could not expect anyone would want to continue litigation with the City of Oak Ridge.”
Oak Ridge City Attorney Ken Krushenski declined to comment Tuesday on the pending legal cases.
Levitt, an attorney who also owns property in Knox, Blount, and Campbell counties as well as several businesses, has argued that the city once expressed interest in buying the Applewood Apartments and that delayed repairs for more than four years. He said the city is trying to drive the working poor out of Oak Ridge.
Applewood tenants paid as little as $275 per month in rent.
Oak Ridge officials have said they are not trying to drive the working poor out of Oak Ridge but are enforcing city codes, just like they do at other homes in the city.
The 120 apartment units are on Hillside Road and Hunter Circle in the Highland View neighborhood. They’ve been the subject of code enforcement battles that dragged on for several years in city, county, and state courtrooms. The legal battle has included demolition orders, disputes over fines, legal appeals, votes on whether at least some of the buildings are unfit for human occupation and use, and contentious board and courtroom hearings on city code-related issues.
In the past, city officials have said they want the buildings repaired, while Levitt and staff members have said they have made repairs.
“We maintain our properties,” said Levitt, who said that most of his law practice is charity work for people who can’t afford a lawyer and clients who have interesting questions to answer.
Applewood Apartments once had 15 buildings on 15 acres, but about a decade ago, Landmark Group, a consortium based in Winston-Salem, N.C., bought two buildings west of Highland Avenue and replaced them with 20 townhomes. That was part of a bigger project that used low-income housing tax credits to build 72 townhomes and apartments on about seven acres in Oak Ridge, including 52 apartment units on Royce Circle.
See previous Applewood Apartments stories here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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