Tenants at the Reserve at Brookhaven apartments are organizing to challenge a $350 fine tacked onto this month’s rent for allegedly having prohibited items on their patios, such as bicycles and children’s toys. The owner of the complex said the steep fines are being charged because the city of Brookhaven is ordering a thorough cleanup of the Buford Highway area where the Peachtree Creek Greenway is now under construction.

Rebekah Morris of Los Vecinos de Buford Highway, far left, and Leslie, a tenant at the Reserve at Brookhaven apartments on Briarwood Road, lead a group of tenants on June 3 into the leasing office to pay rent and oppose a $350 patio fine for allegedly having prohibited items on their patios. (Dyana Bagby)

Most of the tenants living at the complex at 1750 Briarwood Road, off Buford Highway near Northeast Plaza, are immigrants who only speak Spanish. Besides protesting the fine, they are also complaining that many have gone without air conditioning and hot water despite repeated requests for repairs. The property owner said all residents now have air conditioning after a supplier provided needed compressors and freon that were delayed by a delivery backlog.

About a dozen tenants, mostly women and some with young children, gathered June 3 at the apartment playground after being organized by Leslie, a tenant who asked her last name to not be used. She received help in organizing them from members of the Housing Justice League and Rebekah Morris, a Doraville City Council candidate and equitable housing director with Los Vecinos de Buford Highway. Los Vecinos and the Housing Justice League advocate for tenant rights.

One woman with a child said she had no air conditioning, but property management provided her with a small fan that barely cooled one room. They all said they were told to pay a $350 “patio fine” for having things like toys and children’s bikes on their patios. They all said they had never received the fine before. They were also told their rent would not be accepted unless the fine was paid at the same time.

“This is unjust and illegal,” Leslie said in an earlier interview. “It does make it seem like they are trying to push people out, trying to evict people.”

A property manager tells tenants of the Reserve at Brookhaven after calling Brookhaven Police that the $350 patio fines would be dropped if they removed everything from their patios except patio furniture and plants. The owner of the complex said the fines were implemented because the city is cracking down on cleaning up the area where the Peachtree Creek Greenway is under construction. (Dyana Bagby)

A copy of her lease states tenants cannot have outdoor equipment, such as toys and bikes, stored outside the apartment “except as permitted on a patio or balcony.”

After gathering at the playground on June 3, the tenants marched to the leasing office to pay their rent but to dispute the fine. The property manager, two maintenance workers and some of the residents got into a shouting match and the property manager called Brookhaven Police to escort the group out. No one was arrested. A property manager told the tenants after police arrived the fine would be dropped if tenants cleared off everything from their patios other than porch furniture and plants.

Chip Fife, president of FifeCo Properties, owner of the Reserve at Brookhaven, said the decision to fine residents $350 for “patio violations” is a direct result of the city’s construction of the Peachtree Creek Greenway and future construction of the public safety headquarters.

A major trailhead for the trail is under construction just down the road and across the street from the apartments at 1793 Briarwood Road. The city plans to break ground this year at the same site on a new public safety headquarters.

Fife said city officials conducted an inspection of the complex earlier this year and talks from city officials of enforcing tenants keep items off their patios was discussed in January.

“Code enforcement is already being very strict … because of the police station and the park going in across the street,” Fife said. “They made it clear to us they did not want the property looking bad and wanted the patios clear. They want Briarwood Road very clean.”

A sign marks where construction of the Peachtree Creek Greenway is taking place on Briarwood Road. In the background are the Reserve at Brookhaven apartments. (Dyana Bagby)

The Reserve at Brookhaven includes nine buildings and more than 200 apartments. Several buildings are close to Briarwood Road and some patios can be seen from the road and sidewalk. The entrance to the Greenway where the trailhead is now being built is readily visible while standing at the entrances into the apartment complex.

City spokesperson Burke Brennan said the city’s code enforcement conducted an outdoor inspection of the Reserve at Brookhaven on Jan. 24 and there were one or two patios that had “outdoor storage” such as tires, trash or boxes. Outside storage is a code violation, but the porches were cleaned, and no fines were assessed, he said.

Brennan said the city does not have a patio ordinance and was not responsible for the $350 fines. The city does promote property owners keeping their properties clean, he said.

Fife said he believed patio fines have been issued in the past, but not as high as $350. He said he does not know how the $350 figure was determined and left that up to his property managers.

FifeCo Properties purchased the property in 2014 for $10.2 million, according to DeKalb County property records. Fife said he has no immediate plans to sell the property.