Tenants grumbling at HOPE

September 06, 1994|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Sun Staff Writer

When the gas-fired boiler in Samantha Summers' Union Street townhouse broke down on a Saturday in February, leaving her family without heat, she called the landlord.

When the toilet in Amy Dixon's Union Village apartment stopped several months ago, she called the landlord.

When Rosa Gonzales moved out of Union Village two years ago, she retained the memory of the cockroaches that filled the floor when anyone went downstairs at night and turned on a light. Her daughter, Elizabeth Cotto, translates for Ms. Gonzales, who speaks little English. Ms. Cotto wrote to the landlord about the roaches.

Mrs. Summers spent almost three days without heat. Ms. Dixon spent five or six days with a clogged toilet. Ms. Gonzales' roach problem never got attention.

Housing Ownership Purchase Effort Inc. (HOPE) of Carroll County owns 20 townhouses in Union Village and about seven other units on Union Street. The private, nonprofit corporation's purpose is to provide decent housing for low-income and elderly people.

Tenants say routine maintenance is neglected, they have no way to reach anyone in an emergency and, in some units, cockroaches roam at night. They charge that manager Carolyn Kutilek favors some tenants with speedy repairs, while others face long delays and haggles over whether specific damage resulted from routine wear or tenants are liable.

The HOPE board of directors has agreed to meet this evening with tenant Sarah Kramer, who picketed the rental office Aug. 25 after trying unsuccessfully for several weeks to get a gas leak in her stove repaired. Ms. Kramer said she would invite other tenants to accompany her.

Mrs. Summers said that when she found that her heating unit wouldn't work, no one was on duty at the rental office. The tenant said she left a message on the answering machine.

"It was, 'Carolyn, I've got no heat. Can you get George [Stein, a handyman] over here?' " Mrs. Summers said. No one responded, she said.

Mrs. Summers, her husband, John, and 4-year-old son wrapped up in blankets while they were at home. Mrs. Summers called again Sunday and left another message on the answering machine.

No one responded, she said.

Mrs. Summers said Ms. Kutilek returned her call Monday and a repairman fixed the boiler that afternoon.

Ms. Kutilek referred all questions to Bernard L. Jones Sr., president of HOPE's board of directors. Mr. Jones said he didn't know of the heater failure. "I was not aware that anyone was out of heat and it didn't get fixed," he said. "As cold as last winter was, that's very odd."

Mr. Jones said HOPE has on-call plumbing and heating service from Modern Comfort Systems. He said the manager checks messages Saturdays.

Ms. Dixon said she waited five or six days until Mr. Stein came to fix the toilet. Four months ago, she wrote Ms. Kutilek and Mr. Jones to report that the bathroom electrical outlets do not work, that bathroom tiles have popped out and her 3-year-old son has gotten splinters from the exposed wood.

As of late last week, she said, she had not received a reply.

"Carolyn and me just don't get along at all," Ms. Dixon said. She said she can't trace the personality clash to a specific incident.

Ms. Dixon said she and Ms. Kutilek have faced off twice in Carroll courts, once in an eviction attempt after a 1992 break-in, in which the men trying to break in fired a bullet into the carpet, and once on an overdue rent charge. Ms. Dixon said she produced a money order receipt for the rent.

Ms. Gonzales said through her daughter that cockroaches were a "big, big problem." Ms. Cotto said that when her mother complained, Ms. Kutilek's answer was that tenants who didn't want roaches should keep the townhouse clean.

"But we're very clean people," Ms. Cotto said.

Ms. Gonzales said Ms. Kutilek told her that if she wanted the townhouse sprayed to control roaches, she would have to pay for it.

Ray Pullen, owner of ABC Termite & Pest Control, said he could not comment on Ms. Gonzales' situation. He said cockroaches can migrate in townhouses where common walls are not sealed, slipping through most any tiny opening. He noted that the insects can also enter through bags brought home from a supermarket or boxes that have been shipped.

Mr. Jones said HOPE does not have regularly scheduled extermination service. He said the frequency that units are sprayed "is up to the manager and up to the bugs."

Mrs. Summers said Ms. Kutilek has been cooperative in accepting stretched-out payments when she couldn't pay full rent on the date due. She said she has no personal clash with the manager, but she sees a need for an emergency telephone number and faster response to nonemergency maintenance needs.

"I can't put it off on George. George tries, but Carolyn needs more people. She needs certified people," Mrs. Summers said.

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