Landlord criticized on compliance rate

September 26, 1994|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Sun Staff Writer

Carroll County government and some tenants in Union Village townhouses in Westminster share a problem -- both have trouble getting the landlord to make repairs.

Housing Ownership Purchase Effort (HOPE) of Carroll County Inc., which owns the 20 Union Village units and seven other subsidized units on Union Street, "probably in my opinion has a lower compliance rate than anyone else," said Greg Keller, the county's minimum-livability code coordinator.

"They have a responsibility to get back with us and assure that a violation has been corrected or schedule an inspection. That never happens."

Mr. Keller said that although compliance is poor, the county receives relatively few complaints from HOPE tenants, compared with other rental properties of roughly equal size.

A HOPE-owned house at 4 Union St. has been vacant for about six weeks, under orders from Mr. Keller not to rent it again until it is repaired.

An inspection found 19 code violations, including possible carbon monoxide leaks from rusted pipes, a basement drain illegally hooked into the city sewer system, an unsafe rear porch and no smoke detectors.

Tenants began coming forward to describe a pattern of failure to perform routine maintenance and long waits for emergency repairs after Union Village tenant Sarah Kramer picketed HOPE's rental office last month.

Ms. Kramer took to the street after trying vainly for weeks to get repairs for a stove that was leaking gas from the pilot light. The pilot light has since been repaired.

Tenants also say that manager Carolyn Kutilek routinely pressures them to pay for repairs that result from normal wear and tear. Leases state that tenants must pay for damage they cause.

But tenants say Ms. Kutilek has attempted to charge them for items such as replacement of rubber gaskets for 12-year-old refrigerators or has promised but failed to reimburse them for items such as smoke detectors.

Ms. Kutilek did not return a telephone call last week. She has previously referred all questions to Bernard L. Jones, president of HOPE's board of directors.

The housing corporation began dragging its feet on repairs less than two years ago, Mr. Keller said. He said he got quick action after his first inspection on a tenant complaint in 1992.

After that, he said, compliance deteriorated.

"If [Mr. Keller] has a consistent difficulty, he should contact me and not the newspaper," Mr. Jones said. In fact, The Sun had asked Mr. Keller about HOPE's repair record.

The county inspector said Mr. Jones contacted him last week to schedule a meeting to discuss the violations at 4 Union St. he had listed in an Aug. 9 letter.

Mr. Jones said he didn't receive the letter until after Labor Day and hadn't contacted Mr. Keller because the house hasn't been repaired.

L "Do you expect us to do this in a week or 10 days?" he said.

Yvette Camphor, who lived at 4 Union St. with her husband, Kevin, and their two children, said that although she knew the house was in bad repair, she was furious when she saw the list of violations Mr. Keller found.

"It's not fair. We didn't get our $475 [monthly rent] out of it," Mrs. Camphor said. Mr. and Mrs. Camphor are embroiled in a dispute with HOPE over their last two months' rent.

She said that to get the second floor warm, the family had to set the heat very high on the first floor. The lone grate that supplied heat would get so hot that, "If you walked across it with tennis shoes on, it would leave a tennis shoe print," Mrs. Camphor said.

Mr. and Mrs. Camphor paid full-market rent. She said they stayed because they were saving to buy a home and because, "If you're black and you live in Westminster, you live on Charles Street, Center Street or Union Street."

The HOPE board refused to release any information about the corporation's budget, including how it spends the subsidy it receives from Farmers Home Administration. That subsidy, $156,000 this year, includes an allocation for repairs.

"We would prefer that you direct your request for HOPE Inc. budget and financial information to the Farmers Home Administration," HOPE attorney Wesley D. Blakeslee said in a letter to The Sun.

Farmers Home Administration officials said they would release HOPE's budget only through a Freedom of Information request. A request is now pending.

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