Sharon “Ila” Smith, 74, in the lobby of the Veranda. She’s holding two tomatoes her neighbor gave her just before she sat down to speak with the L-E

Sharon “Ila” Smith, 74, waits in the lobby of the Veranda. She’s holding two tomatoes her neighbor gave her just before she sat down to speak with the Ledger-Enquirer.

Credit: Kala Hunter / Ledger-Inquirer

A Columbus woman who told the Ledger-Enquirer she was without air conditioning in her Ashley Station apartment for 88 days finally has A/C.

Sharon “Ila” Smith, 74, said she put up with the heat from April 15 to July 17, except for a four-day stretch in early July. After months of back-and-forth with the apartment building’s management company, Smith’s air conditioning was fixed about an hour-and-a-half after she was interviewed in the building’s lobby by an L-E reporter.

A retired pastor, Smith worked with the Pentecostal mission taking her around the world to places like Greece, Germany and Egypt.

“My apartment reminds me of Egypt’s heat,” Smith said. “I wake up at night in a sweat.”

She worked as a social studies teacher and a horticulture teacher in Georgia and Virginia, and before retiring she worked in hospice.

Smith has mostly enjoyed Ashley Station over the five years she’s lived there, until recent events.

Ashley Station has about 370 units split into nearly a dozen buildings that vary in residency income and demographics tucked between 24th and 27th streets before Talbottom and Hamilton Road meet.

Some buildings at Ashley Station are dedicated to senior citizens, and some are government-subsidized housing.

In January, the complex changed hands to a new property manager, CAHEC. During that same time, Smith was in the hospital from a fall that led to a broken wrist, followed by an unlucky second injury weeks later to her shoulder.

Smith stayed with her sister, Paula Smith, in north Columbus for a few months while she recovered.

The thermostat in the Veranda lobby shows 82 degrees. It shares the same air and temperature as Sharon Smith’s hallway.

The thermostat in the Veranda lobby shows 82 degrees. It shares the same air and temperature as Sharon Smith’s hallway.

Credit: Kala Hunter / Ledger-Inquirer

In April, shortly after returning, Smith wanted to turn on her A/C to start to cool before the sweltering summer heat would arrive. It produced a humming sound, but no cool air.

She called the local leasing office but did not reach anyone. She tried email, sending 13 notes over three months. She always received automated, “work-order pending” responses. It’s unclear who at CAHEC monitors work order emails and why they were never addressed.

CAHEC management did not respond to multiple requests for comment by publication time.

Smith relied on her ceiling fan and a 12-inch personal-sized fan she placed on her kitchen table.

That “didn’t change the temperature,” she said. The apartment hovered at about 85-88 degrees most days.

“When we got this new [property management], everything went haywire,” Smith said.

“Before, we called the office and they would call you back and come take care of it.”

Despite Georgia’s oppressive summer heat where highs float in the upper 90s around the state and for seven months the average temperature is above 70 degrees, landlords are not required by law to provide air conditioning. But, according to Georgia Legal Aid, if a unit comes with air conditioning, it must be repaired if it’s broken.



In June, with a much shorter patience fuse than her sister, Paula Smith sent an email to the Ledger-Enquirer pleading help.

Days later, Sharon Smith discovered a number she hadn’t tried before, at the bottom of the CAHEC management website with an 803 area code (belonging to Columbia, South Carolina). On June 29 she called the number and a representative who answered was in shock to hear about her living conditions. Maintenance at Ashley Station arrived within 30 minutes after the call and repaired her A/C.

CAHEC manages 350 buildings throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama.

Rocket and Sherlock, Smith’s cats, were just as thrilled about the cooler temperatures as she was.

“My cats were sitting on my lap again,” Smith recalled. “Without A/C they were miserable.”

Smith’s A/C only worked for the following four days, until July 3. This time she knew who to call when the A/C broke again.

“We’ll page maintenance,” the representative of the 803 line said.

Maintenance never came, she said.

She called the CAHEC representative number again, five times over the course of 11 days.

Maintenance never showed up.

The brutal heat in her apartment meant cooking was no longer an option.

“If I cooked something, then, my Lord, did that place get hot,” Smith said.

She resorted to snacks and junk food that didn’t require a stove or oven. Smith is at risk of heat exhaustion especially at her age, complicated by her diabetes.

“It would get so hot that I would feel sick,” Smith said.

Smith kept ice packs around her neck and took cool showers.

“I can barely move around, or I will start to get hot,” Smith said.

Remaining sedentary was one of Smith’s strategies to keep cool when her small apartment reached 89 degrees.



On July 10, Smith was told the same line by a CAHEC representative on the phone, “I’ll give a note to maintenance,” after she went a full week without A/C.

“I don’t want anyone to get in trouble, I just want my A/C to work,” Smith said.

From July 3-17, during Smith’s second round of a broken A/C, the temperature in Columbus never dropped below 72 degrees. Temperature highs between April 15 and July 17 in Columbus were between 76-96 degrees.

One week later, Smith met with the Ledger-Enquirer in the lobby of her building, “The Veranda,” dedicated to seniors. It was 82 degrees in the lobby at 11 a.m. The lobby shared the same space as her hallways.

“My apartment is hotter than out here,” Smith said.

The maintenance manager at Ashley Station, Quincy Miles, was busy when the Ledger-Enquirer spoke with him. He had lists of to-do’s, but reassured her that broken A/C would be critical.

“The Veranda is a senior area, I will not let someone wait that long,” Miles said. “There’s no way [Smith] doesn’t have A/C.”

Miles explained he is mainly working just himself, with the help of a few tech aides, but because they lack certain certification requirements they aren’t able to help with HVAC.

One hour and 30 minutes after the Ledger-Enquirer spoke with Miles, Smith had working A/C.



The city has a Property Maintenance Code that all landlords must follow.

“If a tenant has reported maintenance issues to a landlord and no action has taken place, the tenant can contact Inspections and Code at 706-653-4126 to request an inspection,” Ryan Pruett, Director of Building Inspections and Code Enforcement with the City of Columbus said.

After calling that number, an enforcement officer will come out and inspect the rental unit. If there are violations, the landlord will be notified with a reasonable amount of time to correct the issue or they can be fined. “The minimum penalty for a Proper Maintenance Code violation is $500.00 for a first offense and $1,000.00 for any subsequent offenses at the same location,” Pruett said.

This story comes to GPB through a reporter partnership with the Ledger-Inquirer