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No date set for when residents can go home

LAWTON, Okla._Three days after an apartment complex in downtown Lawton was shut down because of building code violations, residents still don't know when they'll be able to move back in.

The fire marshal shut down the Lawtonian Apartments Friday afternoon after finding several problems, including the building's two inoperable elevators and a fire alarm system that wasn't up to state code.

About 11:00 a.m. Monday, the cousin of owner Joseph Zalar opened up the building on his behalf and started to allow tenants to pick up anything they might need. They've been in talks with the fire marshal as well as making a game plan on exactly how to make the Lawtonian safe and sound for everyone.

It's been a rough few days for dozens of tenants.

"Hey! You got three hours to get your stuff out of here."

Peter Crough has lived in the Lawtonian for four years and says former property managers had all but given up on repairing the building's two elevators.

"We were told it was not going to get fixed because they've tried and tried and tried and couldn't get it fixed. And if you wanted to leave, you could," said Crough.

But it was the longtime property managers, John and Gayle Rutherford, who ended up leaving. The owners say they left on April 10 after only notifying residents on April 7. Now weeks later, owners are still picking up the pieces.

"It's their responsibility to manage the apartments, make repairs and they failed to do that. They actually abandoned those tenants at the Lawtonian," said Edward Dzialo Jr., Joseph Zalar's attorney.

Dzialo says his client is elderly and in poor health, and the property managers didn't hold up their end of the bargain. Phone calls to the Rutherfords were not returned, but Dzialo says the Zalars are working as fast as they can to get everyone back home soon.

"The elevator repairs will hopefully be done in the next week or two. We're working with Sooner Security to upgrade the fire detection system at the Lawtonian, which will be quite substantial, but it will be necessary in order to bring the fire system and elevators up to code for the health and safety of the residents," explained Dzialo.

That's all tenants, like Crough, could want for a space they call home.

"I'd rather have it fixed, because for what I was paying here, and location, you can't beat it for a single person like me. It just worked out really well," said Crough.

As of Monday afternoon, Fire Marshal Mark Mitchell says the owners are working to get contractors in and get several things fixed, including a roof leak and the fire system. It's just too early to tell when tenants will be allowed back in, but Zalar's attorney says they're working on assisting residents with financial costs during this displacement.

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