"I wasn't ready for it. It was shocking," said Takira Thomas, a business administration student at Olympia College, now homeless.
Standing outside her former Bremerton apartment covered in brown plastic and yellow caution tape with her coworker and roommate Deannette Hundven at her side, the women said their lives have been a "whirlwind" since Sept. 27. That's the day they found out their apartment was structurally unsafe.
Thomas and Hundven got the first shock a few days prior, when Takira stepped onto her apartment's second floor deck at the Wedgewood Lane Apartments and her foot went through the floorboard.
"I couldn't believe it, I actually twisted my ankle," Thomas said.
She called the Kitsap County Building Inspector. The county Fire Marshall told KOMO 4 his inspector discovered massive water damage, dry rot and a pest infestation. Under the living room carpet, inspectors found severe damage.
"I had a hole in the living room -- if you lift up the carpet you could see in the apartment downstairs," said Thomas.
The county slapped the women's apartment and the apartment below it with a red tag, deeming the properties unfit to live in and not even safe to enter. Four other apartments were yellow-tagged -- only safe to enter in the event of an emergency. The young women had to move immediately.
"We need help moving --had to take time off of work, how are we going to afford it?" asked Hundven, "It was impossible." They've been living like nomads, moving from friend to family and back.
The landlord, Desmond Gibson, who is currently out of state said he was shocked to learn of the damage, but said all the tenants were offered one of their vacant apartments as an alternative. The women took one look at it and said no thanks. They consider it unlivable and have chosen to continue couch surfing until they get their security deposit back. "We're staying with family and friends, we keep moving around because you can't stay with anyone too long," said Thomas. "We have no money to move into a new place."
The Problem Solvers contacted Kitsap County to see why the tenants weren't getting any support - especially due to the emergency nature of their move. The Kitsap Community Resources (KCR) told me this was news to them -- no one contacted their agency about the condemned properties and that if the tenants qualify, they may be eligible for emergency housing and even financial assistance. In fact, KCR encourages anyone in Kitsap County in a similar situation to visit its office at 1201 Park Avenue in Bremerton for a walk-in appointment or call them at (360) 473-2150. Typically in these cases, the tenants reach out to the county, but the tenants insist it was never communicated to them that the Kitsap Community Resources could be of assistance.
The Problem Solvers are getting the tenants and the county together, but now there is a new wrinkle at the Wedgewood Lane apartments: A default notice addressed to the property owner Desmond Gibson just went up on the property and was posted on a number of tenant's doors. A small group of those tenants fear a foreclosure. Some are now withholding their rent, concerned if they pay it, they'll loose it and possibly their homes.
"None of us have a problem of paying, we want to make sure it goes to the right place," said tenant Amy Kress, who's been a resident at Wedgewood for more than a year.
I asked Gibson about the default. He insists it's just part of the banking process. He's confident it will be resolved, and told KOMO 4, he's in the middle of refinancing the property, trying to merge the three apartments all under one loan. Gibson says once the refinancing comes through he intends to make all the necessary repairs. The county has issued a work stoppage order on some of those repairs until all the proper permits are secured. In the meantime, tenants withholding their rent checks say they have no choice, but to watch and wait.
"If we had a better option we'd take it, but we don't, these are our homes and we're fighting to stay in there," said Gary, a 3-year tenant who didn't want to reveal his last name.