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'It's just not right!' — Disabled residents sound off on repeated elevator breakdowns

Some are forced to sleep in their cars
Cleveland woman says she's had to sleep in a car for nights because of elevator breakdowns.
Posted at 4:56 PM, Apr 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-02 11:48:47-04

CLEVELAND — You probably never think about elevators unless you rely on them. People with disabilities in our area are struggling. So much so that sometimes they’re sleeping in their cars all because of problematic elevators.

“I can’t believe that this elevator is broken again,” said Eric Allen, 56, from Euclid, during a recent video he recorded. He’s living in an apartment complex called Bluestone. “And I’m literally pressing this button,” he said in the video. “And you can see, it’s stuck on (the 3rd floor).”

Allen lives on the fifth floor in a building that only has one elevator. At one point, he lived with his 83-year-old father-in-law Duwud Abdullah. When we visited in the fall of last year, Abdullah told us, “Most times we have trouble with it. That’s the problem.”

The elderly man spoke to us from his twin bed. He told us he’s had heart surgery, his feet would swell and he couldn’t get to all of his doctors’ appointments.

“Are you able to get up and down the steps?” we asked.

“Oh, no,” said Abdullah.

When Allen moved in, he told us he didn’t realize there was only one elevator, one that broke down for days or weeks, at times.

More issues for those in poor health

Jessie Champion Simms, 65, from Cleveland, told us she’s had similar problems at The Galloway Apartments around Shaker Square. “I would have never moved on the third floor had I known this elevator was going to be shut down for a month,” Champion Simms said.

She told us she has a bad knee.

“It was horrific! I had to deal with that for a month. I told them that I had surgery on my knee where I tore off half my knee!” she said, showing a large scar on her right knee.

Wheelchair-bound, 84-year-old woman forced to sleep in car

Meanwhile, Katie Williams, 84, from Cleveland, lives on the fifth floor of the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Property off Outhwaite Avenue. She said she knows how Allen and Champion Simms feel.

“What happens if the elevator doesn’t work?” we asked Williams.

“Well, then I have to stay in. If I get caught down, I got to stay down,” she said while sitting outside the building in her electric wheelchair.

Then, she told us this: “The last time I had to stay in my car for two nights.”

Disability organizations say this is 'important'

“I am really glad you’re looking into this. It’s important,” said Kerstin Sjoberg, who is the Executive Director of Disability Rights Ohio. “Failing to take prompt action, reasonable action, to fix an elevator very likely would violate federal law…and I would be very concerned if that could be the situation,” Sjoberg said.

The Ohio Department of Commerce is responsible for inspecting elevators twice a year, but there is no current requirement for property owners to report each time their elevators break down. So, the inspection could happen on a Tuesday morning and by Tuesday night the elevator could break down for days on end and nobody is held accountable for that.

State senator hears lots of these complaints

“I think it’s bad that we have to continue to deal with this issue,” said State Senator Sandra Williams. She represents most of Cleveland and some suburbs. She told us her office has gotten complaints about problematic elevators and even gotten into arguments with various property owners over the years. “You have over 150 units in this one building. So, you can’t pay $25,000 to fix an elevator?” she said, recalling one past conversation.

We showed Senator Williams a video of what the people we interviewed are saying.

“It hurts my heart to see people in this situation,” the senator said after watching it.

Which then begs the question: should property owners have to report when elevators are out?

“I think it would be great if we had a reporting system where tenants could call and say, ‘You know our elevators are out?’ What are you going to do about it?” Williams said.

Searching for answers

At Bluestone, where Allen lives, the management company REM Commercial showed us a back room that houses the elevator's controls. A representative said the company has replaced all relays, the hydraulic system and the starter so far.

We saw the elevator working that day. Management told us there are fewer problems now, but they do have more plans to address the building’s one and only elevator by the end of this year. “We’ll certainly try to work with every resident on the upper floors if they need some type of assistance,” said Gary Duvall from REM. He also told us it’s been a tough year financially because some residents haven’t been paying rent due to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, management for The Galloway apartments hung up on us. A week later, we went searching for answers, only to find out there’s a brand new company managing the apartments. In a statement, the new company said, in part: “We are working with a local elevator company to make sure we are compliant and that our residents have access….our priority is our residents.”

We asked CMHA to speak with News 5 on camera about Williams’s problems. It said it would. It never did.

“I can’t come down no steps,” Williams during our interview.

Also, Cleveland inspects elevators. We wanted to know the process and problems it sees with elevators. We tried numerous times to talk with the city. Email after email we asked for answers. Once again, the city ignored our interview requests.

Those who help people with disabilities think a mandatory elevator-outage reporting system is a powerful idea.

“It doesn’t seem like that’s challenging if there was some sort of database or some other place that they could just simply enter the information,” said Sjoberg from Disability Rights Ohio.

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Duvall from REM. “I think having some accountability is always good.”

Williams told us she hopes someone is held accountable for the breakdowns.

“We live here,” Williams said. “We ain’t got nowhere to go. Home is here!”

Transparency Tracker

Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority - 1 - Failed to comply with information requests in a reasonable time frame

Transparency Tracker 1

Did not provide an on-camera interview about elevator issues at one of their apartments after saying they would.

City of Cleveland - 1 - Failed to comply with information requests in a reasonable time frame

Transparency Tracker 1

The city completely ignored multiple requests for an interview about their elevator inspection process.

Learn more about News 5's "Transparency Tracker" initiative here.

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