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Raines Property Management Maintenance – At Pavilion Place, a dilapidated apartment complex south of downtown Atlanta, residents contend with cockroaches and crime, doors that won’t lock and windows that won’t open, plumbing that backs up and dumpsters that overflow. They clean up when intruders defecate outside their doors. They listen at night as rats scratch inside the walls.
A continent away, in Beverly Hills, California, the owner of Pavilion Place employs a pool man and gardener, housekeeper and tutor for his pre-school aged children. His household expenses are approaching $40,000 a month. Most families in Pavilion Place earn half that much in a year.
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For residents, every day at Pavilion Place represents an existential struggle. Seven people have died there in homicides since 2015, and at least 14 others have been wounded by gunfire. In 2020, four people were killed over just 59 days.
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The owner faces challenges of a different magnitude. In a contentious divorce case, his wife has accused him of infidelity and financial misconduct. She is seeking half a million dollars a year in support.
Pavilion Place, built 56 years ago into a steep embankment above Cleveland Avenue, not far from the Atlanta airport, highlights a predatory housing system in which the owners of even the most dilapidated apartment complexes thrive while residents continue to be confined in unsafe, unsanitary or unsanitary homes. , often, both.
An investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution identified more than 250 complexes across metro Atlanta where violent crime and dangerous living conditions combine to make apartments nearly unlivable. The investigation found that at least three-fourths of the region’s most dangerous complexes belong to private equity firms and other remote investors, many of whom, in the absence of robust government oversight, prioritize profits over the well-being of their tenants.
Pavilion Place belongs to a 52-year-old real estate investor from California named Behzad Beroukhai. Known to tenants only as “Ben,” he built an apartment rental business of about 30 buildings and complexes, seven of them in metro Atlanta, from an office in a cream-colored house in a residential part of Beverly Hills.
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The only entrance to the complex does not have a security gate, so anyone can enter at any time. A battered perimeter fence is easy to break.
The open basement doors reveal a foul stew of rubbish and standing water. In some apartments, floors and ceilings are spongy with rot, so bad that one resident crashed through his kitchen floor in 2019 and had to be freed by firefighters.
And on the playground, in a complex that 103 school-aged children list as their home address, a scrap two-by-four plank served for a time as a makeshift swing seat. Now, two bare chains hang from a bar above, with no seat at all.
In addition to the other murders and shootings, Atlanta police records show 22 attempted or completed suicides at Pavilion Place since Beroukhai bought the property. There have been 69 intense attacks. Thirty five cases of car theft. Fifty burglaries. Four rapes. Eight sex crimes. Seventeen armed robberies – not counting one unreported one committed by two teenagers wielding a military-style assault rifle.
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In an interview, Beroukhai said Pavilion Place had overcome problems he attributed to other people: employees of a property management company, unsavory tenants inherited from the former owner, employees who failed to resolve residents’ complaints.
“The property is 100% habitable,” he said. “Whatever I have to do, I do it. Better to spend the money and fix the stuff.”
It is difficult to reconcile Beroukhai’s picture with reality in Pavilion Place. For years, the Journal-Constitution found, Beroukhai has steadfastly resisted efforts — by government regulators, by the police, by tenants — to force him to fulfill his promise to provide decent housing.
Amidst this attempt at reckoning, Pavilion Place has remained a residence of last resort: better than the streets, if only by a little.
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Some of Pavilion Place’s 240 apartments offer glimpses of the downtown Atlantic skyline, off in the distance. Scenes from closer range inspire less awe.
Pavilion Place consists of 28 shabby, red-brick buildings, many with flats that have been burnt out or otherwise abandoned. In the late 1990s, Catholic Social Services housed international refugees at the complex, then known as Crescent Hills, until news reports revealed living conditions that Atlanta’s archbishop acknowledged were “deplorable.”
The complex was renovated in the early 2000s, supported by as much as $7.5 million in federal and state tax credits. But by the time Tranisha Wilcox arrived in 2019, the property had deteriorated again.
Wilcox, 29, had bad credit, unstable income and a history of eviction notices from landlords. She was pregnant with her second child and on the verge of homelessness when, despite her shaky record, Pavilion Place rented her a one-bedroom apartment for $650 a month.
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In the early morning of January 17, 2020, Wilcox woke up to the smell of smoke. Flames rose on her second story wooden balcony, and poisonous smoke met her at the front door. She and her sons were addicted.
By dawn, they were at Grady Memorial Hospital receiving treatment for smoke inhalation. Wilcox had handed her boys – first her baby, CJ, then 7-year-old Giovanni – through a small bathroom window to a firefighter on a ladder, and a fire captain had come through the smoke to rescue them, sharing his oxygen mask as he led her to safety.
The fire started in the apartment below Wilcox’s, according to an Atlanta Fire Department investigator’s report. The sprinkler closest to the ignition point did not trigger the fire, the investigator determined, allowing flames to spread to other apartments.
Housing inspectors had documented missing pieces of sprinklers in several buildings in Pavilion Place and some sprinkler heads had been painted over, records show. Fire alarms and extinguishers in some apartments were not working or missing altogether.
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Wilcox wanted to leave Pavilion Place after the fire but couldn’t afford the security deposit and application fees — hundreds of dollars on top of the rent — she would need to get another apartment. Pavilion Place management moved her to a different unit, but the basement of her new building flooded when it rained, and water that smelled of human waste backed up in her bathtub.
Equally disturbing, an intruder repeatedly defecated and urinated in the first floor hallway of her building. At night, Wilcox could hear the man outside her door. In the morning, he would find feces spread on the floor and walls.
Wilcox and her neighbor across the hall, Kimberly Kemp, called 911, but the operator told them to talk to the Pavilion Place rental office instead. Apartment managers refused to lock the building or even clean up the man’s mess, Wilcox and Kemp said. The girls scrubbed the green carpet and the walls themselves.
Kemp, 53, considered Pavilion Place too dangerous for her grandchildren to visit. While she was showering one day, a bullet had come through the ceiling, she said. Her bathroom floor had already begun to cave in.
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The view from Wilcox’s new apartment was his old one. One day last year, almost two years after the fire, she could see that her old place was still empty and empty.
Far from Pavilion Place, Ben Beroukhai keeps a low profile. He has no presence on social media, and his business does not have a website. In an age of ubiquitous exposure, no photos of Beroukhai seem to exist online.
“Ben and I enjoyed a wealthy, upper-class lifestyle,” his wife, Liat Talasazan, wrote in a court filing last year. They lived, she wrote, in a “beautiful five-bedroom, four-bathroom, 4,000-square-foot home” with their three children: a boy and a girl in preschool and a baby girl.
Talasazan cataloged the couple’s luxuries: five restaurant meals almost every week, each costing $250 or more; A Cadillac Escalade for her, a Mercedes-Benz S 550 for him; his cellar of fine wines and Scotches; her $1,500-a-month spa membership, weekly massages and Pilates classes; tutors for their two older children on top of $48,000 a year in pre-school lessons. The pool man and the gardener came the same two days a week; the keeper of the house, four.
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Talasazan estimated that her husband earns $400,000 a month from his real estate holdings. But she said she needed a $50,000 forensic audit — the kind of review typically performed to detect financial wrongdoing — to be sure.
In his own filing, Beroukhai said he grosses no more than $400,000 a year, an amount that would not remotely cover the expenses detailed by his wife. His claims about his financial situation and life outside of marriage, she said, were “full of lies and misrepresentations.”
The most hostile issues between Beroukhai and Talasazan highlight the contrasts between his life and the lives of the residents of Pavilion Place. In a heated phone call that Beroukhai recorded last year, Talasazan pressured him to immediately send her a promised $100,000 payment on a second home in Israel, according to a transcript filed in court. Beroukhai said he didn’t have that much money in one account, a claim that angered Talasazan.
In Los Angeles, as in Atlanta, Beroukhai’s apartment buildings stand in high-crime, low-income neighborhoods. And, as in Atlanta, his tenants in Los Angeles complain that he is failing
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