Jun. 3—Trent Fuessel and his girlfriend possibly escaped death by eight days.
They are among the tenants of at least two apartments at 324 Main St. who complained of cracks in the walls and floors of their units in the weeks before the structure collapsed into rubble on Sunday, a tragedy that leaves three men unaccounted for.
Others warned of red flags with the building’s structure in the months, weeks and even hours before the six floors of the Davenport went down, city, county records and interviews show.
Even in the hours beforehand, a rebuffed masonry contractor told workers to get off the site, warning, ‘You’re going to die,’ and a chamber employee called 911 Saturday to report a portion of the wall was bulging.
The west wall that collapsed was of particular concern, especially in the past five months.
The city ordered an emergency site visit by an owner-hired structural engineer in early February, prompted by a complaint that the west wall brick was visibly deteriorating. That engineer specified in work to be done to immediately shore up the west wall and steel beams, and in the following weeks and months to make “structural masonry repairs” including replacing an internal concrete masonry unit wall and exterior bricks. City inspection records mark the work, which was inspected April 12, 21, and May 1, as “completed” May 12.
In April, as work was ongoing, Fuessel said he and his girlfriend started to notice a thin crack in their west-facing wall at Apartment 311.
And the crack started to grow, snaking diagonally from the floor, behind an outlet, to the bottom of their window. It matched a crack on the outside of the building.
Fuessel and his girlfriend had more on their list of issues at their unit since they moved in in September 2022: snow blew in from windows they couldn’t close, and a botched bathtub drain fix caused water to leak into the unit below.
In the first few days of May, the couple decided they’d had enough.
They emailed the property management that they’d be breaking their lease because of what they called the “unsafe structure of the building and the broken bathtub that drains into the apartment below me,” they wrote in an email signed by both of them.
They were willing to vacate within 30 days.
“The structural issues with the building have been a concern for some time, with visible cracks and signs of instability,” they wrote in the email. “I have also noticed water damage in my apartment, which I believe is a result of the building’s poor condition.”
The property manager, Sarah Tyler, emailed back May 4. She denied any structural deficiencies within the building, citing a structural engineering report, and said the property management had “repeatedly assessed” the tub leak. But, she said she’d allow them to break the lease so long as they signed a hold-harmless agreement.
By chance, Fuessel ran into a city worker in the building, who advised him to submit a complaint to the city, which he did May 15. Fuessel said the city worker gave him a phone number, wrote down his name and complaint.
“I was like, hey, I got this going on, and she’s like, yeah, we’re trying to get them to fix some of these things,” Feussel said.
“I feel like she she definitely cared about my wellbeing — my living situation,” he added.
An inspection log from the city states: “TRENT’S APARTMENT IS THE BACKSIDE WHERE BRICK WALL WAS WORKED ON. TRENT SAYS HIS WALLS ARE GETTING WORSE WITH CRACKS.”
Fuessel and his girlfriend moved out of the apartment May 20. City workers followed up with Fuessel, and canceled the complaint because he was moving out.
Three days later, Bettendorf’s Select Structural Engineering came on site again for a follow-up visit, where professional engineer David Valliere noted that large patches of clay brick façade were separating from the substrate and “appear ready to fall imminently.”
Valliere wrote that the façade on and between filled-in windows was bulging and “looks poised to fall” because the window openings had been filled in with unsupported clay-brick façade, not brick or block. Brick above the windows needed to be secured when making repairs, the report stated “to keep the entire face of the building from falling away when the bottom area(s) come loose.”
Valliere cautioned in that same report that another issue appeared just north of the window openings, where the wall appeared to be losing stability and was visibly bowing. The firm said the culprit could be a weak beam and said a steel column to support it would alleviate the pressure. The May 24 report didn’t specify whether the building was unsafe for occupants.
That same day, the building owner pulled a city permit to “replace 100 linear feet of brick exterior.”
Four days after the permit was pulled, and eight days after Fuessel and his girlfriend had moved out, their apartment was among those that collapsed.
“I would have been in that apartment Sunday,” Fuessel said. “That’s my days off work. Same with my girlfriend. So, we would have been resting. We definitely would have been in the middle of that.”
Fuessel said he felt angry that the collapse could have been avoided, although he’s not sure on whom to place the blame.
“A lot of different things that a lot of different people could have reported,” Fuessel said. “There were way too many signs.”
Now, they’re in Des Moines, where Fuessel’s girlfriend’s family lives, and they’re on the hunt for new jobs. In a strange twist of fate, Fuessel said he’s been recovering in the hospital after his lung unexpectedly collapsed the same day his apartment did.
“Better having a collapsed lung then being in a collapsed building, I guess,” he said.
In the unit below Fuessel’s, where water from Fuessel’s tub would sometimes leak, Shauna Dixon was concerned by and warned property management of large cracks, hers in the floor, as she was preparing to move in to Apartment 210.
In April, Dixon looked at a couple of apartments in The Davenport, but the monthly rent was outside her price range.
“So they showed me one that wasn’t renovated,” Dixon said. “I asked if I could paint and do some renovations in there, and the carpet was really dirty so they said I could pull that up if I wanted to.”
While doing her own renovations, she pulled up the carpet, and noticed long cracks in the floor, and the floor separated from a bulging wall, she told the apartment manager in an email. The kitchen ceiling, too, was caving in. A large crack traced a path from the middle window up to the ceiling, and she noticed gaps between the windows and the walls. All three windows didn’t close all the way, which let in rain and cold.
It worried her, and she documented it all in photos and emails to her property manager.
“I had actually sent the leasing office a message saying I felt like I was going to fall out of the window structurally,” she said.
On April 17, she wrote that the requested repairs “are not only cosmetic but are safety concerns.”
Maintenance hadn’t returned after an initial look at her requests, she wrote, and she questioned when repairs would be taken care of. Village Property Management wrote back the next day, April 18, telling Dixon, they were waiting to hear back from maintenance on scheduling.
“I know they came once, but they mentioned waiting for some of the exterior masonry work to be completed so that the cracks don’t come right back,” the management company wrote. “I will keep you posted on a timeline.”
On May 9, Dixon again emailed Village Property Management that she may have to find another place to rent, citing that she’d moved in with no toilet seat, no air conditioning and no hot water in addition to the floor cracks and ceiling problems.
“I can’t make this place a home for myself or my dogs with those repairs not completed,” she wrote.
She moved out the second week of May from the apartment. She’d stayed there only a few nights on an air mattress while she did her own renovations, she said, which she invested about $400 and a lot of time.
Now, her unit, too, is a pile of rubble.
“That’s what made this all more surreal for me because it could have happened then,” Dixon said.
MidAmerican raised structural concerns in February
Inspection notes dated Feb. 3 show energy company MidAmerican made a complaint via phone call to the city about an unsafe and deteriorating wall at the west and southwest corner of the building. The west exterior needed to be shielded with scaffolding before MidAmerican would agree to work in the area, according to the inspection notes.
That’s about the same time the city ordered an emergency site visit by a structural engineer. That engineer, Valliere, assured the city that the damaged area was “not an imminent danger to the entire building and its residents.”
“An evacuation or lockout is not necessary at this time. The damage will still be addressed and repaired,” Valliere wrote.
A history of complaints
The city took 146 actions at 324 Main St. in the past three years, as listed in a city-provided spreadsheet. The city did inspections for building permits, issued violations and once, in 2020, threatened to close the building if repairs weren’t made.
Red flags on the building in the past three years came as early as the first month of 2020, when the building was owned by Waukee Investments, LLC.
An inspection notes that Neighborhood Services Director Rich Oswald gave the go-ahead for an inspection of what a city inspector reported could be severe violations. Oswald said, according to the log: “I’M NOT AFRAID OF CLOSING THE BUILDING DOWN. GO AHEAD AND PROCEED.”
The log did not detail what those violations were.
The city ordered a handful of units to vacate between 2021 and 2023, two of which were for no heat in the unit in 2023.
Residents complained of no heat eight times in 2023, with one saying it had not been on since October 2022. Other tenant complaints included no hot water, electricity or ways to contact management.
Other moments also detailed issues with the west wall.
According to inspection notes, unspecified needed repairs hadn’t been completed on the west wall, and that the owner, Mark Roemer, “wasn’t allowing” the manager to get bids for roof or exterior wall repair, nor the engineering report.
The city wrote that if work wasn’t completed, a municipal citation would be written to the owner “to spare the tenants having to move.”
Later, in August 2020, the fire marshal noticed bricks falling from the building, and the city set up a meeting with then-owner Roemer, as well as masonry and engineering representatives.
The recent derecho had blown off some bricks from the southwest corner of the building.
In December, inspectors noticed two holes and additional deterioration of the west wall, but wall and roof repairs were completed by May 2021.
In May 2021, inspectors found the exterior west wall semi-completed with “scattered ungrouted areas painted over.”
In July 2021, the city received a complaint from a resident that the drywall around the door to the parking lot wasn’t stable and the door was very difficult to open. The tenant questioned whether it was structurally sound. After that, the city inspector wrote that the chief building official agreed “a structural report must be obtained for the first level wall along the west side.”
According to the city’s documents, it received a complaint from a resident at Dixon’s Apartment 210 dating back to before Andrew Wold bought the apartment complex for more than $4 million in June 2021.
In 2020, a tenant complained of falling ceiling tiles, and the ceiling was leaking at the unit. The resident put tarps up, but water continued coming in over the sink and stove, according to city-released inspection notes. The tenant then retracted the complaint because of no rain in the forecast and roof replacement work having started by Alliance Contracting.
In July, 2021, the tenant called again about ceiling tiles falling with no response from management, according to the city’s inspection notes. Then in early August, a leak was determined to be from a pipe in an upper unit and appeared to be fixed, the resident closed the complaint.
Nuisance complaints persist
In January and February there were four reports of a nuisance dumpster. The city ordered all trash surrounding the dumpster to be cleaned up immediately. Nuisance abatement of the dumpster was filed Feb. 24 and nuisance clean up Feb. 28.
The property was ordered to be immediately cleaned up on March 3, again on March 6 and the dumpster was reported to be overflowing that day.
Clean-up was required again March 9 on the west lot and a 24-hours notice was placed March 24. On March 27 it was again declared a nuisance property. In the months following, 11 more complaints were filed regarding nuisance surrounding the dumpster.
Property sought state workforce housing tax credit
The property at 324 Main St. was one of at least eight properties seeking an Iowa Workforce Housing Tax Credit that came before the Davenport City Council for a resolution of support in June 2022.
The competitive state grant program, which planned to give $35 million in 2022 to housing projects across Iowa, puts a cost-of-construction limit per unit but doesn’t cap rent at a certain amount or limit housing to a certain income threshold.
The city pledged to offer a 10-year 100% tax exemption to the property to throw in city support as required by the grant.
On June 22, 2022 the City Council approved it as a routine item, along with three other applications.
That property did not receive any state housing tax credits, according to an Iowa Economic Development Authority spokesperson.
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