Ash Street Place lawsuit plaintiff list grows

Owner Mills Properties says it isn't allowing residents to return because of safety

Law suit against Ash Street Place Apartments expands

COLUMBIA, Mo. - More former Ash Street Place apartment residents have joined a lawsuit against the complex's owners, demanding they be allowed to collect their belongings after a fire last month.

The suit was filed more than one week ago and had grown to 12 plaintiffs as of Tuesday night.

But Ashland attorney Matthew Uhrig told ABC 17 News he expected to represent nearly 20 former residents, making up one third of the apartment units in the burned out building.

A new restraining order was filed after a court appearance Monday, in which Uhrig and an attorney for Mills Properties agreed to 30 days for the complex to determine what property had been contaminated by asbestos or mold.

During that time, no complex employee is allow to destroy or dispose of any former residents' property.

Uhrig argued that his clients had been given no confirmation that the complex had even done any asbestos testing since the fire.

A spokesman for Mills Properties told ABC 17 News testing is an ongoing process because of changing conditions in what was left of the buildings. He also said residents were not being allowed back in because of structural security concerns.

"It's unfortunate that some peoples' belongings were trapped or may have been destroyed," said Mark Farnen. "We don't even know if some of the things that they want are destroyed or not at this point in time and some stuff is not able to be identified ... We have NOT destroyed or disposed of anything without a release."

Farnen also explained reports from residents looking to be added to the class-action lawsuit. Several former residents told a KMIZ reporter  Tuesday they had been offered $1000 to not join the suit.

Farnen said the company was trying to reach out to people who needed the money faster than a lawsuit might produce it.

"They did offer cash payments to people who were not a part of the suit and who may or may not have had insurance," he said. "Some people believed that that was a better option to take some money at this point in time, replace some of the belongings that may have been lost, rather than wait for an indefinite period of time for a lawsuit that we don't know when it will be settled."

Attorney Matthew Uhrig said none of his clients had been approached for the offer, but some who were considering joining the lawsuit had.

Uhrig reiterated that the lawsuit's core argues for better communication from Mills Properties, which he said has been assuming his clients want their property thrown out without knowing whether it was contaminated or not.

Stay with ABC 17 News and for updates in this case.

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