Fayetteville, N.C. — A Fayetteville apartment complex has become so plagued with crime that the city is taking its owners to court to clean up their act.
A court hearing is set for next Monday in a nuisance lawsuit Fayetteville has filed against Southwood Realty, which owns Cambridge Arms Apartments, at 301 Barcelona Drive.
Cambridge Arms is one of the largest apartment complexes in Fayetteville, with 694 units and about 2,000 residents. It also is well known to police, who routinely answer calls there.
“Cambridge Arms apartments has become a consistent problem for us,” Capt. Ron Spatorico of the Fayetteville Police Department said Tuesday. "We have quite a few large apartment complexes in town that we don’t have near the calls for service out there."
In the last five years, at least three homicides have been reported at Cambridge Arms, as have countless burglaries, armed robberies, assaults, domestic disputes, drug deals and reports of gunfire. Police responded to 278 calls from the complex last year and 22 so far this year, according to the lawsuit.
Resident Crystal Long said that, in the past year, she's been assaulted twice and robbed at Cambridge Arms and that her apartment has been burglarized. Apartment managers act like crimes on the property aren't their problem, she said.
"It's pretty bad. It's unsafe for families and their children," Long said. "I've been hospitalized here. A man assaulted me and (choked) me in front of my children."
The lawsuit alleges that the complex "has been operated in such a manner as to make said place indecent, disgraceful and intolerable for the residents living nearby and the general public traveling the public streets."
"It's been shown over and over again that we can go in there and arrest people, but we can't continually go in there and arrest people," Spatorico said. "At some point, we have to have some cooperation on their part."
Although the nuisance suit could allow Fayetteville to seize the apartment complex, police and city officials said they don't want that result. Instead, they want Gastonia-based Southwood Realty to do a better job of preventing crime in the complex.
"I think the ultimate goal in this would be to get them into compliance and clean the place up," Spatorico said, noting that improved lighting throughout the complex could help eliminate some crimes.
Southwood Realty President Gene Ratchford Jr. said his company does extensive criminal and credit background checks on Cambridge Arms tenants and has hired off-duty police officers to patrol the property at night. He called the allegations in the lawsuit "a vast exaggeration."
""We're not trying to fight with the city," Ratchford said. "We tried to be very responsible. We tried to be responsive. We used their own personnel. Our screening process is extensive."
Fayetteville police have since pulled their officers from the complex in light of the lawsuit.
Many Cambridge Arms residents say they moved to the complex because of its cheap rents, but some now believe the cost of living there has become too high.
Long said she and her children are moving, and resident Elizabeth Murphy said she will leave as soon as her lease is up.
"It's like the projects here. People don't want to come to my house," Murphy said.