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Gas problems solved, new problems found at Lincoln apartments

Gas problems solved, new problems found at Lincoln apartments

Good news for renters of five Lincoln apartment buildings that lost natural gas service nearly two weeks ago: The landlord paid most of her bills, and tenants now have heat, hot water and fuel for their stoves.

But tenants in her three other buildings will probably need to move, because the heat isn’t on. The boilers in those buildings didn’t pass inspection, so the city is red-tagging the apartments at 509, 531 and 541 S. 18th St.

“They’ll have until Oct. 26 to move out,” Chris Connolly, an assistant city attorney, said Tuesday.

It could have been worse. The city had threatened to condemn all eight of Vi Herndon’s buildings if she didn’t restore gas service to her tenants by 5 p.m. Monday. The longtime landlord had failed to pay Black Hills Energy, prompting the company to sever service to her Capitol-area apartments Sept. 18.

But the mayor’s office made two temporary changes to its condemnation policy. Instead of forcing renters out Monday afternoon if gas wasn’t turned on, it stretched the deadline nearly a month to give them time to find new housing.

And the city was prepared to pay Black Hills about $2,700 for natural gas during that period.

The city didn’t want dozens of renters, many of them low-income, suddenly forced from their apartments, the mayor’s office explained last week. And it wanted them to have heat and hot water while they looked for new homes.

But Herndon paid enough of her gas bills to get full gas service restored to five buildings — or at least most of it. The city will start paying for heat at 1741 K St., said Rick Hoppe, the mayor’s chief of staff. He didn’t know yet what that would cost, but called it a fraction of what the city had been willing to pay.

At about the same time, though, the city learned not all of the boilers in Herndon’s buildings were certified.

So the city paid the state to inspect boilers in four buildings. One passed, two needed repairs, and one was red-tagged, meaning it wasn’t safe to operate, said John Albin, acting director of the Nebraska Department of Labor, which oversees boiler certification.

The city plans to have three other boilers inspected; the last building is served by electric heat.

But because of the initial failed boiler inspections, the city condemned the three buildings on South 18th Street. Even though they have gas for hot water and cooking, they need heat.

Herndon’s attorney, Patrick O’Brien, could not be reached Tuesday for comment. But Hoppe said he had heard the landlord was trying to move renters from the 10 to 12 occupied apartments in those three buildings into vacant units in her other five.

“We are hopeful those folks can move into the other places,” Hoppe said.


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