Troubles come home to inspector Independent survey finds 100 deficiencies in official's properties

'At or near point of no return'

Code enforcer got little scrutiny

January 28, 1996|By Jim Haner | Jim Haner,SUN STAFF

One of Baltimore's highest ranking housing code inspectors owns at least six seriously deteriorated rowhouses on the city's east side -- contributing to the blight he is paid to control and leaving his tenants in often dangerous living conditions.

His renters recite a litany of problems -- from rat infestation and a cracked sewer line to flooded basements and leaking roofs -- that has made their homes miserable places to live. At least two of his properties are boarded-up shells.

The landlord is Henry John "Jack" Reed III, 55, a superintendent of inspections for the Department of Housing and Community Development who is directly responsible for enforcing the city housing code. The 28-year city employee receives an annual salary of $46,000.

An independent inspection of four of his properties paid for by The Sun in a three-month investigation uncovered more than 100 deficiencies: Termite-eaten floor joists. Rotted windows and doors. Decrepit staircases. Faulty heating systems.

"It is my opinion that all of the houses that I have inspected for you have suffered from extended periods of neglect and poor maintenance," wrote Wayne G. Norris -- vice president of Dallmus Norris Associates building inspectors and a former code enforcement supervisor for Montgomery County and Fairfax County, Va. -- in a report to The Sun.

"Most of the conditions that I observed don't appear to be the result of tenant abuse. Conditions in some areas of each house have deteriorated to the point of being unsafe or unsanitary. I would categorize these properties at or near the point of no return."

In an interview Thursday, Mr. Reed said: "I didn't get into this to become some kind of slum landlord. I got into it as an investment, to pay for my three kids' education and so I could have a little money when I retire. Obviously, I picked the wrong investment."

He acknowledged that as the condition of his houses slipped, he has received little scrutiny from his own department -- even as he was writing citations against other property owners with the same problems.

"If anything, it gives me some compassion for them," he said. "I know exactly how some of these guys feel when they come in here crying the blues."

By Mr. Reed's count, he owns 17 houses in Baltimore under his three corporations, his name or his wife's name that are costing him $4,500 in monthly mortgages. He attributed his maintenance problems to tenants reneging on their rent, to vandalism and to plunging property values that have left his houses worth half what he is paying for them.

Residents' complaints

City records show that he has managed for more than a decade to avoid any serious code enforcement action by his department -- despite bitter complaints from residents to civic associations and city officials about the decline of their neighborhoods.

Glenn Ross, president of the McElderry Park Community Association, said two of Mr. Reed's properties in his neighborhood have been persistent problems for more than five years, and he has raised concerns about Mr. Reed's role as chief code enforcer for the area.

"Basically, you're asking for city inspectors to come in and look at a property that belongs to their boss," Mr. Ross said. "Not only that, but how can you hold a landlord responsible for his shabby property when Jack Reed owns a house on the same block and it's just as bad, if not worse?

"Maybe I'm missing something, but the conflict of interest seems pretty clear."

Mr. Reed said he was transferred to a different housing inspection office four years ago when housing department officials learned in an internal corruption investigation that he oversaw inspections in the eastside neighborhoods where most of his properties are concentrated.

The investigation failed to uncover evidence of wrongdoing, Mr. Reed said, adding that he has never tried to prevent his co-workers or subordinates from inspecting his properties.

On Friday, his bosses in the city housing department said they do not see a conflict of interest.

'Treat him like any other'

"We are aware and have been aware for some time that he owns these properties," said David Tanner, Mr. Reed's immediate supervisor. "But the thinking has always been that we would treat him like any other property owner -- on the basis of tenant complaints."

Housing department spokesman Zack Germroth agreed, saying that only multifamily dwellings are subject to routine inspections and that investigations of single-family units can be done only in response to a tenant complaint. And there have been few.

But, he said, "since we now have notice of the possibility of violations we will be looking further into this matter. To date, the number of violations on his properties appears to be relatively few."

Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III was not available for comment.

To no avail

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