READING, Ohio (WKRC) - Neighbors are left picking up the pieces after a fire forced more than 10 families to find a new place to live in a very short amount of time.
The fire took place a week ago at the Meadows of Gahl Terrace Apartments in Reading.
“It's right there, right next to my door, right there along the wall,” Ariel Shelton said.
Shelton lives right next door to the man police say started the fire.
Robert Russell, 31, faces 10 counts of aggravated arson related to the Monday night fire at the Meadows of Gahl Terrace Apartments. Investigators say Russell was arguing with his ex-girlfriend via text message. At some point, they said he set his trash can on fire and texted his ex a picture of the flames.
Shelton says shortly after, “[Russell] comes out running. Fire extinguishers is right there, right here. You could have grabbed this instead of banging on my door asking for a bucket of water,” Shelton said. “And now -- look at this. And you want me out and less than a week? This is not -- I can't.”
Shelton and her neighbors are now scrambling, packing away years' worth of memories as fast as they can after receiving a paper notice saying tenants must vacate the premises with all their items as of Nov. 30 by midnight.
“It just tells us, you know, they apologize for the inconvenience, but they really haven't done anything to help,” Deshan De Silva, another tenant, said. “I can't believe this is happening. Very upsetting, I'd say. And the treatment -- you know, I feel dehumanized by the way they treated it. No communication. No text. You know, no call until Saturday.”
At the least, these tenants are asking for more time. Local 12 called the landlord to ask why the residents need to be out by midnight.
While the landlord answered our call, instead of answering the question, he said: “Ma'am, I'm really sorry. I've got to go. I'd love to talk to you, but can you call me after 3?"
Local 12 did call the landlord after 3 p.m. to again ask why the tenants couldn’t be provided more time to get their belongings out.
The landlord responded, “No comment.”
Local 12 then took Shelton’s lease to attorney Tom Hodges, who specializes in housing provider law.
“So based on the lease that I've seen with this particular tenant and in the landlord, it doesn't appear the lease provides any protection for the tenant in this certain situation where a third party has kind of destroyed the premises ... occupied by the tenant,” Hodges said.
“There is an unprecedented amount of assistance available for tenants that are having housing issues, so I would definitely direct them to reach out to the Community Action. I do know the Red Cross becomes involved in these kind of situations where there's some sort of disaster. And I've seen them be able to help with temporary resources to get people stabilized again,” Hodges said.
You can call the Red Cross at 1-800-733-2767 for assistance, as well as check out their “Get Help” page.
Hamilton County residents who are behind on their rent, mortgage, water, utilities and/or sewer payments may be eligible for assistance through the Community Action Agency's Home Relief Program. According to their website, the fastest way to request services is through the online portal. You can apply online using your computer, tablet or smartphone here.
If you are unable to apply online, you can try the call center at 513-569-1840 (select Option 4).
If you qualify for services, they will schedule an appointment for you to talk with an intake specialist.
Another resource includes HOME, Housing Opportunities Made Equal. HOME distributes various educational materials regarding fair housing, protected classes, tenant-landlord law, fair lending, foreclosure prevention and more.
With less than a week to pack, the reality for most of these tenants is they’ve just run out of time.
“I'm trying, but it's more than I thought I could handle in a week,” Shelton said.
Russell’s bond is set at $1 million.