Investigators blame cooling system for Oak Cliff apartment blaze; tenants, records reveal recent...

Residents of the Indigo apartments retrieved belongings and found new shelter Thursday, a day after a fire forced the closing of the Oak Cliff high-rise.

DAVID WOO/DMN
Fire on the roof of the Indigo apartments in Oak Cliff left the air conditioning inoperable. The Dallas fire marshal ordered the 240 occupied units vacated.

Dallas fire investigators say a malfunction of the apartment's rooftop heating and cooling system caused the midday blaze. No one was injured, but two people were taken to Methodist Medical Center for health precautions, said Ernest Gurule, a Dallas Fire-Rescue spokesman. Their conditions were unknown Thursday, he said.

Records and resident interviews tell of recent cooling problems at the 11-story complex, home to many elderly tenants. And with the building's air conditioning inoperable, the Dallas fire marshal ordered the 240 occupied units vacated.

The Red Cross set up a shelter at the Kiest Park Recreation Center, where nine people slept Wednesday night. It remained open Thursday night, Red Cross volunteers said.

Indigo representatives declined to talk about the situation Thursday afternoon and closed the apartment's security gate to the public.

But in a letter posted on The Dallas Morning News online report of the fire, Justin Meszaros, chief executive of the Indigo management company, told residents he hopes to have the air conditioning repaired by today and "our worst case would have our residents displaced until next week."

As residents left the property, possessions in hand, some talked of problems at the complex - repeated heating and air conditioning breakdowns, sometimes lasting for days; broken water pipes and flooding; and unresponsive apartment managers.

Others said the Indigo was a good place to live, particularly for older residents with its relatively affordable rent, on-site food service and security.

"The 21/2 years I've been here, it's been nothing but complaints," Angie McIntosh said. "Every time you ask them a question, they want you to get renter's insurance" to pay for problems.

Jennifer Seifert moved to the Indigo in January and "there's been one thing after the other here," she said. She waited 31/2 hours in the morning sun to retrieve some of her belongings and will live with friends for now. She doesn't know when she will be allowed to return. "They never give us answers," she said of the apartment's managers.

Gurule, the fire-rescue spokesman, said it's unknown when the building can be reoccupied, depending on repair of the air conditioning. "It's a day-to-day thing," he said.

Ruth Pribyl, one of the Indigo's elderly residents, said she will gladly return to her home of 11 years. She said air conditioning hasn't been a problem and the apartment management is "very, very nice."

Barbara Downey said the apartment's plumbing system is old and rusting and managers keep being replaced, but "it's a fabulous building" and she plans to return.

Other residents, such as Donnie Wilson, said some elderly residents had been reluctant to complain about apartment problems for fear of being evicted. "My biggest worry is the seniors," he said.

Built in 1963 and formerly known as the Wedgwood Tower, the 299-unit apartment at 2511 Wedglea Drive changed hands in April 2008. A fire on the fourth floor of the complex killed one person and injured seven others in December 2005, and required evacuation of the building.

According to deed records, the Indigo is owned by Big Bostonian 1 LLC. When the complex sold last year, The News reported that Bostonian Investment Group purchased it for about $13 million. The company had previously operated as the Lindahl Group, based in Massachusetts.

Records show that all of the companies are affiliated with David Lindahl, who has written books about multifamily investing and has marketed his techniques to other investors around the country.

Meszaros told The News last year that his company owned more than 4,000 apartments in Texas. On Thursday, a representative of the Lindahl Group in Massachusetts referred all queries about the Indigo to Meszaros. Meszaros did not return a message left at his Dallas office, and no one answered the phone at his Dallas home.

After Wednesday's fire, Carey Jones, vice president of operations for Enviro Engineering LLC in Waxahachie, wrote an e-mail to The News saying his company recently had filed a lien against the Indigo's owners for nearly $47,000 in unpaid work.

In an interview, Jones called the Indigo's air-conditioning system "incredibly run down and dilapidated." He said his workers walked off the job a couple of months ago when it became apparent they weren't going to be paid.

"I can't begin to describe to you the issues they had there," Jones said of the Indigo.

Records confirm that lien and another by Enviro Engineering for nearly $10,000 against a Lindahl-affiliated apartment complex in Arlington.

Jones said he has turned the matter over to attorneys.

Other contractors also have had problems getting paid, records show.

BCJ Professional Mechanical Services Inc. of DeSoto filed a lien last October, saying the owners of Indigo owed $38,000 for work performed at the complex between July and September.

BCJ chief executive Peggy Jenkins said Thursday that the debt has been paid and that her company did work on individual apartment units at Indigo as recently as two weeks ago. The complex doesn't owe BCJ any money, she said.

Guardian Construction and Guardian Interior Design of Farmers Branch filed three liens, totaling $98,000, against Bostonian Investment Group last month for work at complexes in Dallas, Arlington and White Settlement. No work was at Indigo.

Guardian controller David Wolford declined to comment Thursday, citing the advice of the company's attorney. He would not say if the debts had been paid.

Since August 2008, the city has investigated 12 complaints.

Inspectors were unable to confirm most of the claims, said Sheldon Klain, a code compliance manager.

Staff researcher Molly Motley contributed to this report.

and gjacobson@dallasnews.com


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