What Patricia Dullek once called home is now just a pile of bricks and debris on 18th Street, north of Berks Street.
“Those apartments were brand new,” the junior biology and pre-med major said. “They were beautiful.”
On March 11, Dullek’s home, which housed five other one-bedroom apartments rented by students, was split in half from the foundation through all the floors. Soon thereafter, upon attempting to retrieve belongings before the demolition, she and other tenants noticed many of their belongings were missing.
“[The landlord] said she’s not responsible because it’s condemned by the city, so whoever walks in gets to walk in and get the stuff,” Dullek said. “There was just a lot of looting going on, and we couldn’t keep watch 24/7, but we know that the landlord was going in and out.”
Dullek and another tenant, junior finance major Eric Williams, said they noticed the foundation shifting before it cracked when a construction crew working for Ferraro Properties, Inc. began digging on the lot next door to prepare for site excavation.
Christian “C.J.” Ferraro, president of the company, said Ferraro Properties planned to build a duplex next door, but its construction has been halted pending an investigation by the Department of Licenses and Inspections.
“We don’t know why there was settlement or what the cracks resulted from,” he said. “We’re waiting for the city to give us word of what’s going on.”
Williams said he noticed cracks in the walls, and the doors in his apartment seemed to be misaligned with the frames.
“You could already see that the doors were knocked off balance, [and] you couldn’t even lock the doors,” he said. “It had gotten so bad, so I started thinking, ‘I should get out of here.’”
Upon returning to retrieve their belongings that week, both Williams and Dullek said the landlord, who declined to give her name, first informed them they were not allowed to enter the premises, then later offered to help remove their possessions.
The landlord identified herself as a property manager for 1922 North 18th Street LLC but declined to give contact information for owners of the company. The company is recorded as the owner of the property according to the Philadelphia Board of Revision Taxes Web site.
“[Ferraro is] still saying that he’s going to rent this building next door,” the property manager said.
Tenants said they noticed that, despite claiming the building was too unsafe for them to enter, the landlord and a few neighbors were seen entering the house on a few occasions before it was demolished.
Both said they suspected foul play and felt some of their belongings were stolen, in addition to whatever they lost in the demolition.
“I get there, and my stuff is all over the floor,” she said, adding that she did not feel her belongings were scattered as a result of any impact. “It looked like people were going through my stuff. It was scattered all over, but this was like stuff that wouldn’t even go together.”
Dullek said she was missing some clothing, everything from her kitchen and a few decorations from her apartment. Williams is missing his leather sofa, silverware and stereo equipment, among other things.
So far, neither student has filed a police report, nor have any arrests been made. It is unclear how the belongings went missing.
Both students said they had trouble getting a hold of the property manager between the house’s condemnation and its demolition and are still having trouble speaking to her about getting their security deposits back.
“The landlord is not responding,” Williams said, adding that he had problems getting in touch with her since he moved into the apartment. “The only time you can get a response from her is through text messages. She tries to avoid any phone calls at all costs.”
He said the property manager requested all six tenants of the house sign contracts that say they will not take legal action against her personally for their lost properties before she returns their security deposits.
Both Williams and Dullek said they refused to sign and have not received their security deposits back.
“I have not gotten my security deposit back to this day,” Williams said. “By law, she has until April 10. She claims by signing this, she will expedite the process.”
The property manager said she gave most of her tenants their security deposits back and is working to return them all as soon as possible.
As for lost belongings, she said after the property was sealed, anyone could have gone in at his or her own risk.
“I know they got most of their stuff out,” she said. “[There was] nothing really that we could do to stop people from going into a dangerous building if they want to. We did everything we could.”
Williams said free legal counsel arranged for the tenants by Temple’s Office of Off-Campus Living informed him he will likely have reason to take legal action against both the property management company and Ferraro Properties, Inc.
So far, neither Williams nor Dullek has filed a lawsuit. Dullek said her parents’ homeowners’ insurance company is likely to cover her losses.
“Temple doesn’t allow juniors and seniors to live in dorms, so we’re forced to go into off-campus housing, which allows us to be covered by our parents’ insurance,” Dullek said. “Because I lived alone, I’m covered. If I lived with a roommate, I would not have been covered for whatever reason, so it just played out really well.”
Williams, however, did not have as much luck with his parents’ insurance.
“[We] should have hired somebody to take all the property out before the building was destroyed,” Williams said. “Me and my family, nobody’s been through a situation like this. We would have insisted she [hire someone], but this was a chaotic experience.”
Morgan Zalot can be reached at email@example.com.