Absentee landlord owes BGE $500,000 Riverdale tenants had been told utilities were included in rent

April 11, 1997|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

The absentee landlord who owns part of Riverdale Village Apartments, one of Middle River's worst eyesores, owes Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. $500,000 -- money tenants were told was part of their monthly rent.

While the utility company has been lenient by not cutting the power to 400 units in the dilapidated apartments owned by Richard Schlesinger, county officials are uncertain about the residents' future.

"If and when power is cut off, we've asked BGE to give us enough lead time to prepare for such a possibility," said Mary Emerick, an official of the Office of Community Conservation.

Meanwhile, Baltimore County code inspection officials last week fined Schlesinger $1.5 million for more than 850 building code violations. Inspectors found front doors missing, crawl spaces full of water, damaged roofs, peeling paint and broken or missing windows.

Schlesinger -- whose lawyer did not show up at last week's hearing, officials said -- is scheduled to appear in county District Court next week to face charges of failing to maintain furnaces, water heaters and sump lines at Riverdale, off Eastern Boulevard.

Contacted yesterday in West Palm Beach, Fla., Schlesinger would not comment on the delinquent BGE payments or if he will pay the fine.

"It's a disgrace we can't issue a warrant and arrest Schlesinger," said Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Democrat whose 6th District includes Essex-Middle River. "He should be brought to justice but is protected by that corporate veil.

"It's despicable somebody like that would make money, lots of money, at the expense of mostly poor individuals. After all

this, he shouldn't be allowed to set foot in Baltimore County again."

The Riverdale property sits on 24 acres. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is obtaining state and county permits to demolish the 24 World War II-vintage brick buildings and will sell the parcel to the county for $1.

Schlesinger also is the subject of a federal audit regarding the mortgage he held at Riverdale before the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development foreclosed last September.

"That place is substandard housing at its worse," said Rick Wisnom, chief of the county Division of Code Inspection and Enforcement. "My aim is to shut him down."

BGE officials would not reveal how much time has passed since they've received a utility payment from Schlesinger.

According to county officials, tenants in the 400 units pay an average of $200 monthly rent, which includes utilities. From that estimated $80,000 total, Schlesinger was supposed to pay the Riverdale utility bills.

County sources said many tenants fail to pay rent, are taken to District Court and then fail to appear at trial.

Darcel Guy, a BGE spokeswoman, said the company "does not discuss customer's accounts publicly. We've been working in good faith with the owner to resolve the situation."

But Wisnom said the county doesn't expect Schlesinger to pay his fine for the building code violations.

"I don't think they have any intention of paying any fine or sum levied against them," Wisnom said.

"That was clear when they didn't show," he said. "He's thinking we'll do what we have to do. Eventually, Riverdale will have to be shut down before next winter. It's in such bad shape."

Wisnom said the county could place a lien against the property, but that could pose a dilemma because the county plans to purchase the other section of Riverdale, 452 units, from the federal government.

Meanwhile, Ina B. Singer, director of multifamily housing for the Baltimore office of HUD, said the agency's Inspector General's office in Philadelphia has nearly concluded its audit of Schlesinger, who in April 1996 was denied participation in HUD projects in the area.

"The report is expected shortly, and we will proceed from there," said Singer.

The section on which HUD foreclosed is surrounded by a chain-link fence, and the windows and doors are boarded up.

Before that federal action, Riverdale had deteriorated into what one county official called "a dreadful place" where prostitution, crack dealing and other crime flourished.

Pub Date: 4/11/97

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