Housing inspectors combing apartments County's crackdown a warning to landlords

March 08, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Using a SWAT team of inspectors, Baltimore County has begun a regulatory assault on the Riverdale Village Apartments -- a rundown complex whose owner has been criticized for receiving federal rent subsidies even after defaulting on a $5.4 million government-backed mortgage.

A team of five county inspectors is combing the dilapidated, often vacant and vandalized, 1,140-unit Middle River complex for violations of building and livability codes.

Inspectors expect to find hundreds of violations by the time they finish late next week, said county inspections chief Raymond S. Wisnom Jr.

The inspection is designed to improve conditions at Riverdale Village and send a message to other landlords -- part of a broad effort to stabilize older neighborhoods in the southeast and southwest, county officials said.

And it comes as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is moving to foreclose on the 543 units financed with the government-backed loan.

But county officials say that is a lengthy process, and they don't want to wait.

"Who knows when that's going to happen," County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III said.

Riverdale Village, at 3 Byway South, is "one of the worst places in the county. We're not going to stand for it anymore," he added, referring to landlords who allow apartment complexes to deteriorate and drag down neighborhoods.

HUD paid off the $5.4 million mortgage on half of the complex in June, after the owner, New York-based developer Richard Schlesinger, had not made mortgage payments since January 1993. Now, officials are trying to foreclose on that property and demolish the 50-year-old buildings.

Ina B. Singer, director of multifamily housing programs in the Baltimore HUD office, said she hopes the foreclosure will be concluded by September.

Mr. Schlesinger has defended his actions, claiming that HUD did not do enough to salvage the group of mostly boarded-up buildings on Eastern Boulevard.

Ms. Singer has asked for an audit of Mr. Schlesinger's management of Riverdale, to see whether he has reaped profits from the complex while leaving the government to pay off the mortgage. And U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski called for a HUD inquiry in December to determine why Mr. Schlesinger has collected thousands of dollars in federal rent subsidies after defaulting on the mortgage.

HUD plans to turn its half of the development over to the county, which will raze the buildings and might sell the land for construction of single-family homes.

But county officials want some quick action, including changes in the other half of the huge brick complex.

"We can't afford to let it continue," said P. David Fields, community conservation director for the county. "We want to get people's attention and improve management or change it."

The county is using a SWAT team of inspectors more often now to attack the most blighted areas. Normally, inspectors respond only to individual complaints.

County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat who represents the area, said he thinks Mr. Schlesinger wants to milk whatever money he can out of the complex, without spending anything on repairs.

"This is a way to force his hand," he said about the inspection blitz.

Arnold E. Jablon, director of county permits and development management, said Mr. Schlesinger has a record at Riverdale of leaving whole buildings vacant and sometimes open to the wind.

Because of that, and because it often takes up to six months for code violation cases to go to trial in District Court, Mr. Jablon said he may not give Riverdale Village's owner the normal 30-day period to make repairs after the violations are served next week.

He said, "I may give him two hours."

Pub Date: 3/08/96

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