Former Ash Street Place Residents May Not Get Belongings Back

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COLUMBIA - Former residents of Ash Street Place apartments have been told some of their belongings will be destroyed due to asbestos contamination on Wednesday.

A fire on April 9 damaged apartment building 103 and displaced tenants from 66 units. Former resident Sylvester Ndungu said he and his family are just one of several that will be left with basically nothing.

"It was a shock. I'm not able to explain the loss we'll go through if they destroy our things," Ndungu said.

Melissa Decicco, Marketing Director of Mills Properties, said the company is will not allow people to retrieve their belongings because of health concerns.

"We had some testing done after the fire had taken place," Decicco said. "It tested positive for asbestos. Usually houses built between the 1940s and the 1970s or so generally contained asbestos, which is harmless unless it's disturbed, in this case, by a fire. We are working with contractors to make sure all that stuff is removed properly in an environmentally friendly way. So, unfortunately they can't get their things back."

Decicco said the management is working with contractors to recover things of sentimental value such as photos, but porous items like furniture will be destroyed. However, Ndungu said he would rather decide for himself if his things should be destroyed, or be compensated for the loss.

Decicco said the type of renter's insurance Ndungu has does not cover items in the apartment.

"The [type of insurance] that was most important in this case was content coverage." Decicco said, "So, essentially, whether or not on your policy for your renter's insurance did you say 'this is how much my contents in my apartment are worth' and you pay a little extra a month to make sure that if there's a fire or something like this that if you can't recover your items that the insurance will cover whatever amount you had covered with that content coverage."

Mills Properties sent a letter to former residents explaining the situation and provided contact information where they could get their questions answered. However, Ndungu said he has tried to call several times and has received no answer. Decicco told KOMU, residents should continue to call the number and leave a message if they do not get an answer.

"We are just trying to make sure everyone is safe," Decicco said. "The residents are our number one priority. We obviously wish that we could get you all your items back and understand that that is really frustrating. Again, we want to make sure everyone is safe."

Decicco does not know when the building will be reopened. However, the company plans to rebuild the unit.