BISBEE — A tenant at the Bisbee Community Y went public with his account of needed repairs and maintenance and almost lost his apartment for it.
Francis Kiman, better known as cartoonist Pablo Pencil, discovered a number of possible fire risks due to poor maintenance and other safety issues. When he brought the problems to the attention of management, they were not acted upon, so he called the city.
Soon after, Kiman was told to vacate his apartment when the month-to-month rental lease, considered an at–will lease which can be terminated, came up at the end of September or be evicted.
Kiman, who is a senior citizen and disabled, claimed whistleblower status and said his main concerns were for the safety of all the residents at the Bisbee Community Y (BCY). He did not understand how the board of directors could be so lax and allow the building to decline.
“The hostile actions I endured as a result of speaking out for these rights has seriously affected both my physical and psychological well-being and has been duly recorded by my health providers,” he said in an interview with the Herald/Review. “These are important issues to all of us.”
He related some on his list of deficiencies: certification of fire extinguishers had not been done since 2014, residents were using the windows by the fire escape for ingress and egress to the buildings, no working lock on the front door of the building and no window screens to stop insects from entering the apartments.
The city sent out building inspector Joe Ward to assess the situation at the BCY, which provides low-cost housing for 20 people, and found a number of deficiencies, which he listed in a letter on Aug. 20.
Ward asked when the fire alarms were last certified and if all the smoke alarms worked. He noted the emergency egress lighting was not working in every unit tested and the fire extinguishers needed certification since they had not been checked since 2014.
He called the fire escape “an unsafe ingress/egress route for ordinary use” by the residents. The egress windows at the fire escapes must be operable and lockable from the inside and should not be used by the tenants. He also questioned the lack of security at the front entrance.
Windows in the apartments “must be operable, lockable” and have screens to prevent insects from entering, in accordance with state law. Operable deadbolt locks were lacking for some units.
Ward concluded, “No doubt there are other problems that I have not noticed, yet. Most of this is common sense. I saw a handyman from the Hillcrest apartments working on correcting the window screens, I’m glad that you realize deficiencies.”
Rent for an apartment at the BCY was $250 a month, according to Kiman.
The BCY also owns and operates the Thrift Store on Arizona St. in the Warren District, which provides additional revenue to rent collection. Bisbee residents have long donated furnishings, clothing and other household goods, which the store then resells.
Ward and the Bisbee Fire Department performed a second inspection last week and passed the building, said Mayor David Smith. He has been outspoken on the need for low-cost housing recently and is working to bring more availability to this portion of the populace.
BCY board temporary president Janet Watkins said the building passed a state inspection on Oct. 9.
Watkins explained the former manager of the BCY was hired under a probationary period. She was found to be “unqualified” for the position and would have been asked to leave had she not turned in her resignation.
For the time being, Sharon Frosco, who has been involved with the BCY for 30 years, is taking her place, Watkins said.
Kiman insists things have not been fixed in his apartment. He still has no smoke detector, no screens, no lock and the fire escape issues have not been corrected, he said.
“I don’t understand how it passed,” Kiman said. “My whole intent was to make things safer for all the residents. I’m not an activist. I had no idea this would cascade like this.”
He also said the Attorney General’s Office was investigating his claims of disabled discrimination. He asked for handrails to be installed and was refused.
New board member Victoria Sky, who at one point in the past ran a youth center there, said the management was changed and new people joined the board of directors in place of those who resigned after the building problems were revealed.
“I think something good will come out of this,” Sky added. “We have a good strong board now.”
Though new board members have volunteered to act on behalf of the tenants, most are senior citizens.
“We need to find some younger members,” Sky said. “We’re all getting old.”
The new board members will meet on Tuesday, Oct. 15, at 10 a.m. at the BCY. They will get an update on the status of the building and the non-profit from Sharon Mitchell. She will also help them fix the by-laws, according to Watkins.