LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Work crews began tearing out trees this week as preparations continue for demolition of buildings at Desert Gardens Condominiums after initial notices went out in the spring.
When the electricity went out for about an hour-and-a-half on Wednesday, Michelle Bardlett reached out to 8 News Now for help on behalf of tenants. She has been trying to help residents find new places to live — including a couple who must have power for medical equipment the wife needs after recent heart surgery.
“You just don’t do people like this,” Bardlett said. She said an agency that is working to relocate tenants, is “really no help … they are wanting to place families in drug-, gang- and prostitution-infested areas.”
One resident alleged that the owners were engaging in deceptive trade practices, but a lawyer disputed that claim.
“There has not been any attempt to be deceptive or to be unfair,” said attorney Doug Driggs, who represents Don Ahern in the Desert Gardens purchases. Driggs said tenants who remain aren’t being asked to pay rent, and tenants acknowledge that they are there rent-free.
Still, residents don’t think it’s right. At one point, they were offered $1,000 in a “cash for keys” program that tried to accelerate emptying out the buildings.
Desert Gardens has seen better days. A walk through the complex at 1720 W. Bonanza Road on Thursday morning revealed broken or boarded-up windows, trash scattered among the buildings and buildings spray-painted “vacant” or “demo” — designations that label the progress in getting people out the buildings. Broken glass, discarded clothes and toys — even a steak knife — litter the grounds.
“What’s going on is what’s called deceptive trade practice,” said resident Balout Bey. He said the land was ceded to the community and what Ahern is doing is wrong. Bey also described Ahern’s actions as deprivation of rights under the color of law.
Other residents question why the trees would be torn out while people are still living there, and they point to piles of concrete in the courtyard — more debris just outside their doorways. The power outage on Wednesday shook up a lot of people. Driggs said it was caused by a worker accidentally hitting a power pole, and power was restored “within an hour.”
Driggs explained that Ahern’s companies have partnered with Metro police, East Valley Family Services and Puentes to work individually with tenants to find alternative housing and cover moving expenses, rent and food.
“We have paid for a storage unit to assist one resident in the move. We have paid approximately $70,000 for assistance to tenants and East Valley has spent approximately $40,000 for relocation expenses,” Driggs said in a statement.
Driggs said tents were set up and staffed to help residents and Metro went door-to-door to inform residents of the assistance.
“We’re not trying to push anyone out of their lease,” Driggs said.
Don Ahern owns Ahern Rentals and the Ahern Hotel. One lot used by the rental company is just down the street from Desert Gardens.
Some tenants say they haven’t seen any of the help that Ahern says has been offered.
Sharonda Johnson, a tenant, said social workers wanted her to move to a motel on Fremont Street, but she wouldn’t go there and decided to stay at Desert Gardens. On top of that, her identity was stolen recently, making everything just that much harder. Now she has no place to go. She said she was never offered $1,000.
The reason could be that Ahern doesn’t own all of the units yet. Some owners are renting to tenants who haven’t been offered help.
Johnson’s mother, Sharon Clemons, lived at the complex until six years ago. She says the biggest problem is that residents have no place to go.
Sarah Handley, a resident of the complex for the past eight years, said she is going home to Dallas because she can’t afford apartments in Las Vegas that require an income of two-and-a-half times the rent. Her monthly income is $840. She asked for help in renting a “pod” to ship her belongings, but she couldn’t get it.
The plans for the land have not been disclosed, but Driggs said there is no “viable solution” for the condominiums in the condition they’re in now. Ahern continues to work toward buying all of the units in Desert Gardens through companies he controls. There’s no timeframe for completely clearing the buildings.
Getting the remaining residents out has been problematic for several reasons. Some of the residents are elderly, and government-subsidized housing rules are involved. Also, restrictions on evictions that have been in place during the COVID-19 pandemic have put more restrictions in place.