Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock has strenuously denied the accusation that his church is trying to evict chronically homeless tenants, telling Georgia voters on Friday that they were “false accusations” and an attempt to “defile the Ebenezer Baptist Church”. But just two days earlier, the apartment complex owned by his church had filed eviction proceedings against three additional residents, in a bid to evict tenants who owed as little as $115 in unpaid rent.
Columbia Tower in MLK Village filed eviction proceedings against three tenants on October 12, a day after the Free Washington Beacon announced that the church-owned building had filed a dozen eviction lawsuits against residents of the building since the pandemic began.
Residents told the Free tag that Columbia Residential, the administrators of the building, has become more aggressive in its rent collection policies and sent a notice in September saying it would no longer accept late fees and would initiate eviction proceedings after five days of non-payment.
“If you don’t pay your rent by the fifth, a notice of dispossession comes out that week,” a resident told a Free tag journalist who visited the building in October. “They won’t accept payment after the fifth.”
The latest evictions involved tenants who were just a few days late with their October rent payment and owed just $115, according to Fulton County Trial Court records filed by Columbia Tower.
The records contradict Warnock’s statements over the past week denying that Columbia Tower, which is 99% owned by Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he is senior pastor, attempted to evict anyone. Fulton County marshals conducted two court-ordered evictions of residents from the property, one in August 2020 and another in February 2022.
“There were no evictions, period,” Warnock said when asked about the Free tag report in a debate on Sunday. Warnock claimed the news was ‘just another example of Herschel Walker and his allies lying’ and ‘trying to smear the name of Dr King’s Church, John Lewis’ Church, for short term political gain. term”.
Warnock did not respond to a request for comment.
MLK Village filed suit against the three tenants last week, seeking “possession” of their apartments, plus $250 filing fees, $75 late fees and additional water and sewer payments. All of the residents were behind on just one month’s rent for October, the documents show, with one owing $610 and the other two owing $115 each.
Two other Columbia Tower residents who received eviction notices in September have responded in court that their landlord refused to accept their rent payments.
“I proposed and had money to pay my rent by the date I usually pay, but my landlord refused to accept it,” the two residents said in their responses to the notices. dispossession of Columbia Tower.
One of the residents advised the Fulton County Magistrate’s Court in response to his eviction notice that the Columbia Tower is “drilling locks in the door without a problem. [sic] because he did not give notice to leave” and was “evicted for 1 night by change of lock, hotel costs incurred”.
The resident who said a lock had been drilled into his door did not respond to requests for comment.
Warnock’s claim that there were no evictions from Columbia Tower during the pandemic is not true.
Fulton County marshals executed two court-ordered writs of possession against residents of Columbia Tower during the pandemic, court records show.
One was made on August 17, 2020 against a woman who was sued in March 2020 for just $28.55 in unpaid rent, according to court records. The tenant had left the building when the writ of possession was executed. However, she would have been forcibly removed from the apartment if she was there when the authorities arrived.
The second resident was not so lucky. Fulton County marshals reported they “evicted” the resident when they executed a court-ordered writ of possession on Feb. 1, 2022, court records show. The resident was sued in September 2021 for $423 in overdue rent.
Columbia Tower dismissed four other eviction lawsuits it filed against residents during the pandemic, but only after paying excessive court fees that far exceeded their monthly rent.
A resident told Free tag she received an eviction notice when she was only a day late in paying her rent. She ended up having to pay over $300 in legal fees, the equivalent of about two months’ rent, to stay in her home.
Another resident, Phillip White, a 69-year-old African-American Vietnam veteran, said he had to pay $325 in court costs after Columbia Tower tried to evict him in September 2021 for $179 in rent. outstanding payment.
White received a second eviction notice in late September for failing to meet a $192 rent payment earlier that month. He told the Free tag he plans to take the case to court.
Warnock claims on his campaign website that he has no day-to-day involvement in the management activities of Columbia Tower.
The Ebenezer Baptist Church holds 99% ownership through a complex web of shell organizations linked to the Ebenezer Building Foundation, a charity that delegates all management duties to the church and identifies Warnock as its chief executive.
Columbia Residential, the 1% owner of the building, told the Free tag that Ebenezer Building Foundation has contracted with the company to manage the property “on its behalf”.
The church ended 2021 with cash and “cash equivalents” exceeding $1.2 million, according to audited financial statements obtained by the Free tag. He also paid Warnock a tax-free housing allowance of $7,417 a month in 2021 as part of an arrangement that allowed him to circumvent outside income limits for U.S. senators.
All the while, residents of Columbia Tower told the Free tag their home is infested with pests, maintenance issues and dirt.
Last Wednesday, the Securities and Charities Division of the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office launched an investigation into the Ebenezer Building Foundation to determine why the charity operates in the state without an active registration. The charity has until November 2 to present evidence showing why it is exempt from registering with the Secretary of State and is therefore ‘not in breach of law and rules’.
Ebenezer Baptist Church and Columbia Residential did not return requests for comment on the latest round of eviction lawsuits filed last week.
Mario Breedlove, the attorney who filed the lawsuits on behalf of Columbia Residential, also did not return a request for comment.