Baltimore landlord agrees to a fund covering repairs

February 03, 1994|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,Sun Staff Writer

Disgruntled tenants packed a U.S. Bankruptcy Court hearing yesterday to learn details of an agreement forcing a Baltimore landlord to pay at least $35,000 monthly for repairs on scores of properties cited for housing code violations.

About 50 people attended the standing-room-only hearing, which was to have determined whether the landlord, R. William Connolly Jr., would be required to set up the fund.

The tenants came armed with hundreds of photographs, dozens of slides and a videotape, prepared to show deplorable conditions at Mr. Connolly's properties. Many wore yellow tags that proclaimed, "Decent Housing: Our Legal Right" and "Fix Our Houses!"

But the landlord settled the matter before the hearing began, agreeing to the fund and to the appointment of an administrator to manage the repairs. Mr. Connolly was not present as lawyers outlined the plan. "It's tremendous," Michael Bardoff, a tenant organizer for Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., said of the agreement. "To have the responsibility in the hands of a third party is a major improvement."

Of 504 properties owned by Mr. Connolly and his wife, Marcia, 228 are vacant, according to the city housing department. The department has 175 notices of outstanding violations against Connolly-owned properties.

Mr. Connolly filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last June, shortly after reaching an agreement with Baltimore officials in which he promised to set up a repair fund to correct housing code violations. Under the agreement, Mr. Connolly was to place $95,000 a year over three years into the fund and commit 23 percent of his gross rents to repairs.

When that plan failed and the number of violations continued to rise, housing officials and the state attorney general's office asked that Bankruptcy Judge James F. Schneider require Mr. Connolly to set aside at least $50,000 a month for repairs. They settled on $35,000.

If Mr. Connolly's gross rents exceed $87,500, he will contribute 40 percent to the fund.

He receives $80,500 a month in rents, according to Denise Duval, a staff attorney for the Community Law Center.

Ira C. Cooke, a lawyer for Mr. Connolly, reminded the court that his client has serious financial troubles.

"Mr. Connolly has been putting into the system higher amounts toward repairs than is normal in the industry," he said. That amount, attorneys said, has been about $33,000 a month.

Tenants described their living conditions for the judge.

Tamara Sollers, who rents an apartment from Mr. Connolly on McDonogh Street, said that when water pipes froze and broke early last month, her calls for repairs went ignored. In the weeks since, water has continued to pour into a vacant apartment below hers, leaving the basement knee-deep in water and Ms. Sollers' apartment with none.

She and her two small children have relied on neighbors to help, she said.

She also described broken windows, a leaking roof and a trash-filled fire escape.

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