Gatlinburg landlord faced problems in Columbus, Ohio

Oct. 28, 2013 @ 10:00 AM

 The landlord of a condemned motel used as weekly rental lodging in Gatliburg isn’t in his first confrontation over codes enforcement at his property, here or outside Tennessee.

Stuart Kaplow has faced numerous citations over maintenance of property in Gatlinburg going back as far as August of 2007, according to city records. In fact, the records indicate he failed to pay fines on some citations until he was hauled back into court for that grievance as well. He eventually paid at least $5,293.75 in fees.

But his history of running low-rent housing and failing to act on codes violations goes back even before his move to the Smoky Mountains

Twelve years ago in Columbus, Ohio, a judge forced him to live in one of his low-rent apartments until he brought all his properties up to code, according to stories from the Columbus Dispatch.

Kaplow would later go to jail for failing to bring it up to standards and eventually admitted he couldn’t bring it to standards before selling it.

Kaplow had more than 80 rental properties in Columbus in 2001, putting him among the largest holders of rental property in the city, according to archived reports from the Dispatch. After he pleaded guilty to four housing code violations, an environmental court judge ordered him to bring his units up to code, and to stay in one of his vacant apartments until that was done.

The landlord, who was 51 at the time, was living in a $1.3-million mansion with 15 rooms at the time, according to the Dispatch. Still, he told reporters he wasn’t perturbed at being forced to move into the low-rent apartment. He said he’d lived in that area for 20 years before moving to his million-dollar home outside Columbus.

Judge Richard C. Pfeiffer eventually sent Kaplow to jail for 14 days after he said he couldn’t address all the violations. Pfeiffer said at the time that was the longest sentence he’d ever imposed upon a landlord, according to the Dispatch.

“Mr. Kaplow just didn’t get the message,” the judge said.

Kaplow would later agree to sell the properties.

Some of the issues that landed Kaplow in Pfeiffer’s court are similar to complaints he’s faced here — in one Dispatch story, a prosecutor mentions a leaky toilet and a cockroach infestation.

The prosecutor handling the 2001 case then told the Dispatch that he was no longer accepting plea agreements from Kaplow because the landlord had prosecuted him in 14 criminal cases involving housing and health code violations over the previous five years.

In Gatlinburg, the confrontation over codes became more serious for Kaplow in 2011.

Since then, he’s been facing condemnation proceedings on the Ski Mountain Motel on Ski Mountain Road. Jay Horner, deputy building officials for the city, wrote in the condemnation notice that “On March 22, 2011, I personally observed the subject property as having numerous health, safety and structural violations which deem the subject property as unfit for human habitation.”

The violations included bug infestations, uncovered electrical panels, damage to the roof, structural failure in the floors, and exposed plumbing and structural materials.

Kaplow and another man, Maury Greenstein, have filed lawsuits in Sevier County Circuit Court and in the federal court in Knoxville attempting to stop the city from condemning the property.

The documents indicate Greenstein, who gives an Ohio address, actually owns the motel. They say Kaplow has a lease on the property. Documents filed here indicate Greenstein has given Kaplow power of attorney over the property.

Kaplow did not return a call from The Mountain Press seeking comment for this story. City officials have said they won’t comment on the matter because of the pending litigation.

The matter first came to light earlier this month, when residents from Ski Mountain Motel began calling local media after city officials put up new condemnation notices.

The city also turned off the water at the building until Kaplow fixed a toilet that had overflowed to the point that sewage had seeped out of a vacant apartment, and had the filth cleared from the room and the area outside.

This week, the city judge gave the residents 10 days to clear out of the hotel before the city starts imposing fees on them. Kaplow was also found guilty of nine counts of renting property that had been condemned.

Records indicate he’s been cited and found guilty of that several times in city court in the last few months, and has filed appeals of those actions with Sevier County Circuit Court as well.

He was cited again Thursday for allowing a condemned unit to be occupied.

Residents said this week that Kaplow had tried to make them pay rent on the property even after the city issued the latest notices.

In the condemnation notice, Horner mentions the property must be vacated until the violations are addressed. However, court documents indicate the city could have the option to bulldoze the property.

When Chancellor Telford Forgety reviewed the matter during the appeal process, he said the city would be within its rights to demolish the property.

Kaplow’s name doesn’t come up as the owner of much property in Sevier County. In lawsuits he’s filed against the city he gives an address on Cardinal Drive —a cabin in the Hidden Hills subdivision valued at about $300,000. But Greenstein is listed as the owner of that property as well.

In a 2009 interview with The Mountain Press, Kaplow said he also ran the Creekside Inn and the Ski View and Rocky River motels. He estimated about 500 people were staying in his properties at the time.

“Pretty much everybody you see working in Gatlinburg, a lot of them are living at my places,” he said.

“They work at the restaurants as servers or in the kitchens, they work at the hotels in the front desk or housekeeping.”

Residents living there during the time told the paper they called his property the “Gatlinburg ghetto.”

When he learned in 2009 that some of his residents were complaining about maintenance of the property, he mentioned the city’s inspections.

“The city of Gatlinburg inspects every one of my units every year,” he said in 2009. “It’s a rigorous standard and if it doesn’t meet the standard, they come back until I do.”

Talking to The Mountain Press back then, Kaplow presented himself as the last resort for people living in his property — something he also did during his time in the spotlight in Columbus.

“I don’t know what these people would do if I weren’t around,” he said. “I think I’m probably cheaper than a trailer because the heat (bill) alone kills them.”