Landlord fined $4,000, ordered to sell building

October 22, 1994|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,Sun Staff Writer

When Crystal Cooper settles down for the night in her one-bedroom apartment in the Villages of Tall Trees, she puts cotton in her ears to keep the roaches from bothering her.

Downstairs, Ronda Stevanus worries that her bathtub will fall through the floor when she steps in it to take a shower. And next door, Tracey Sanders' 4-year-old is afraid to sleep because of the slugs in the apartment.

For years, the residents say, they complained but got no solutions from their landlord, Yogendar Dusaj. But this week a Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge found Mr. Dusaj guilty of nearly 20 housing code violations and, in effect, forced him out as owner of the Essex apartment building.

Mr. Dusaj, 46, an engineer for the Maryland Department of the Environment, was found guilty of 19 violations, fined $4,000 and given a 30-day suspended jail sentence Wednesday by Judge (( Thomas J. Bollinger. The judge told him that if he did not sell the building at 1602 Doolittle Road within four months, it would go to public auction.

County housing officials said Mr. Dusaj was the subject of frequent complaints and enforcement actions, most of which were unsuccessful.

His tenants complained of intimidation and shoddy maintenance floors that gave with each step, smoke detectors shorted out by roaches, exposed pipes and live wires dangling from openings in the walls were common complaints in the eight-apartment low-income complex.

Each of the 105 small buildings in Villages of Tall Trees is individually owned. Mr. Dusaj owns two buildings. Wednesday's court action dealt with one.

"I think they are just whining," Mr. Dusaj said. "I do not think that building is in absolutely bad shape."

Instead, Mr. Dusaj argued that the tenants were to blame for the cockroaches and other problems.: "It is the way that these people live. . . . There should be better law enforcement so that there will be less breakage," he said.

Mr. Dusaj said housing inspectors were harassing him and did not give him enough time to fix the building. He also said the tenants intentionally destroyed the property so they wouldn't have to pay the rent.

Mr. Dusaj said he spent $5,000 on repairs. In Ms. Stevanus' apartment, he said he replaced the refrigerator three times and the stove twice.

"I think that they are getting much more than they pay for," he said.

A check of records showed that tenants began complaining about Mr. Dusaj's building as far back as 1990. The county's livability office -- a branch of the Department of County Development that enforces the housing code -- has recorded 74 violations this year.

In 1991, records show, an Essex District Court judge acting on tenant complaints fined Mr. Dusaj $1,000. The judge also warned Mr. Dusaj to stop threatening tenants with eviction.

The complaints that culminated in Wednesday's court action began last year when Ms. Cooper, Ms. Stevanus and Ms. Sanders spearheaded a campaign to get Mr. Dusaj to fix their apartments.

They say Mr. Dusaj either ignored them or made repairs that lasted a few months at best.

"It was call after call after call," said Ms. Stevanus, who has lived in her apartment for the past 18 months. "He never would return our calls."

Housing inspector Robert Morfield, who inspected the complex eight times, said that after being served with warnings, Mr. Dusaj did not repair the building correctly.

He said Mr. Dusaj dealt with exposed live wires dangling from walls by putting masking tape over the holes. In another case, Mr. Dusaj stapled a plastic bag to a buckled, leaking bathroom ceiling.

"I've never had anyone more difficult to try to get stuff done," Mr. Morfield said.

Some tenants said they will move in a few weeks with the help of four months' rent that was held in escrow while they pursued action in court.

Others weren't happy with the outcome.

"We all feel like he got off like a fat rat," Ms. Stevanus said. "He is going to get the money from selling the building. Where is it that he is getting punished for what he did? I still had to live here and put up with this."

Mr. Dusaj said in court that his building is worth about $140,000.

"I tried my best and took care of most of the major things," Mr. Dusaj said. "I'm happy to get rid of the building. It is a headache. You try to do a good deed, and this is what happens."

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