Mendenhall Tower tenants pick up pieces after fire

Terry Baker sits on her bed in an apartment recently stripped of wet carpet on July 12, 2018, at the Mendenhall Tower Apartments in Juneau. Baker's apartment is near one that caught fire and damaged the building extensively. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska's Energy Desk)

Terry Baker sits on her bed in an apartment recently stripped of wet carpet on July 12, 2018, at the Mendenhall Tower Apartments in Juneau. Baker’s apartment is near one that caught fire and damaged the building extensively. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Concerns have been raised among tenants of Mendenhall Tower Apartments, Juneau’s largest apartment building, about the pace of repairs following this month’s fire in the high-rise.

Minutes after the fire was extinguished, Fire Marshal Dan Jager told KTOO the building’s sprinkler system had helped contain the blaze. But it also flooded three floors.

“Unfortunately, because of the water flow there is going to be some water damage,” Jager told KTOO at the time.

A week later, Terry Baker sits inside her apartment opposite where the July 5 fire started.

“I’m grateful to everybody that works for Weidner (Apartment Homes) because they got the carpet out of here,” she said of the company that owns the building.

Baker is sitting on the bed of her efficiency apartment. The floor is bare from where her wall-to-wall carpeting was removed.

“Friday night I stayed here, but the carpet was wet and it made me sick,” she recalled. “And then the director of the whole property came in and smelled everything. They took all the carpets out Saturday.”

A replacement is being shipped by barge. But the management company confirmed the hallways carpets — which have a funky post-water damage odor — would remain.

That troubles Baker though she’s loathe to complain.

“The carpet out there concerns me,” Baker said. “Maybe you can say something, too, so they won’t think I’m the only one that smells that.”

Weidner is a company with billions in assets and owns thousands of apartments in Anchorage and the Lower 48.

Weidner representative Greg Cerbana in Kirkland, Washington, confirmed there are no plans to replace the hallway carpets. He did not respond to requests for further comment.

Other tenants are concerned that management isn’t keeping the building up to code.

Karena Perry lives three floors up from where the fire began on an unattended stove top. She’s concerned about the low-hanging cabinets over the stove in hers and other apartments.

“I asked the fire marshal about our cupboards being only 17 inches above our stove tops and I was told that’s up to the building department or the oven manufacturer,” she said. “Of course it wouldn’t be up to the oven manufacturer because there’s international building codes, which CBJ follows.”

Karena Perry measures the distance between her stove and cabinets on July 12, 2018, at the Mendenhall Tower Apartments in Juneau. Perry says the proximity between the two is a potential fire hazard. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Following a smoke incident that caused a building-wide evacuation last year, Perry noticed the fire extinguishers hadn’t had their annual servicing.

They were a month out of date last Friday. She’s raised the issue of expired fire extinguishers with both the building superintendent and Juneau’s fire marshal.

“So obviously, somebody has to be on management and get them serviced exactly on the year,” she said.

Juneau Deputy Sven Pearson said the fire extinguishers are on track to be serviced this week. He said he didn’t know of any other outstanding code violations.

Doing a post-fire check, Juneau’s chief code enforcement official Charlie Ford walked through the building’s hallways on Friday. Only common areas were inspected as a tenant has to expressly invite officials into an occupied unit.

But Ford also said he didn’t see any problems.

“There was a little musty smell on the third floor but the rest of the place looked fairly normal to me,” Ford said.

He said the city’s role in policing rentals is limited.

“There’s a big difference between complaining about code issues and complaining about your living situation and your landlord’s lack of response to maintenance issues,” Ford said. “We can’t micromanage every landlord/tenant situation.”

Firefighters and residents outside Mendenhall Tower Apartments the morning of July 5, 2018, after some residents were evacuated after a fire. (Photo by Tripp J Crouse/KTOO)

Firefighters and residents outside Mendenhall Tower Apartments the morning of July 5, 2018, after some residents were evacuated after a fire. (Photo by Tripp J Crouse/KTOO)

Some 23 of the complex’s 127 units are federally subsidized for low income tenants.

Michael Courtney, director of housing operations for the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, said each apartment is inspected before a client moves in.

“We ensure that the units are secure and safe, that all the appliances work properly and that it’s a decent, safe and sanitary unit,” Courtney said.

There is, however, no rental inspection program for market-rate housing in Juneau. Most disputes are left between the tenant and landlord.

KTOO’s Mikko Wilson contributed to this report. 

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