$1 million in fines on Riverdale dropped County didn't give owner formal notice

$510,600 in other violations pending

September 18, 1997|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County dropped yesterday $1 million in housing code fines levied against the owner of the condemned Riverdale Apartments in Essex, saying the county did not give the owner formal notice to fix the problems before issuing the violations.

But the county is pressing ahead with $510,600 in fines pending against Florida real estate mogul Richard M. Schlesinger, whose corporation owns half the 1,140-unit complex in the 1900 block of Eastern Boulevard.

The county's decision to drop the fines was made public in a legal brief by Douglas N. Silber, assistant county attorney, submitted at a hearing of the county Board of Appeals yesterday.

The fines that were dropped involved violations allegedly found on six days in March 1996. The county concedes that it did not officially tell Schlesinger's company to make the repairs before imposing the fines.

The remaining fines represent 851 violations stemming from inspections on Oct. 1, Dec. 18 and Dec. 19, 1996, at the World War II-era complex, which has been decaying since before Schlesinger's firm bought it in 1979.

"We were not angels at Riverdale," Ronald G. Kane, attorney for Schlesinger, Riverdale's principal operator, said yesterday.

That was merely the prelude to the Bethesda lawyer's arguments to the board about why the fines are illegal, inaccurately computed or just wrong.

Kane argued that the county used the wrong law, was not specific enough in issuing citations, did not issue them at the right times and did not record repairs that were made. He also said the county's charges are "pure garbage."

In addition, he said that because Riverdale is closed, fenced and boarded up, the county has no real complaint. "We're not doing damage to anyone," he said.

Silber called those points "circular, specious and incorrect arguments." He said it was "ridiculous" to argue that the Schlesinger firm should be absolved of the violations simply because the complex was evacuated after the firm did not pay its utility bills.

He argued that, despite testimony yesterday from Patti Hoeck, Riverdale's rental manager, about new roofs and other repairs, no conclusive documents had been submitted to prove such repairs had been made.

"There were no photos, no checks, no testimony from a roofer" or from the complex's former maintenance men, Silber said. "All of this points out they didn't fix anything."

Despite spirited arguments over the fines from Silber and Kane, the discussion may be little more than academic.

Kane has said repeatedly in the past, and again yesterday, that Riverdale Apartments Inc., -- Schlesinger's firm -- has no assets other than the property, which is vacant, fenced and virtually worthless.

And, besides any fines owed the county, Riverdale's owners owe $600,000 to Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. for unpaid utility bills that forced the evacuation of the complex in June, plus more than $1 million to Chase Manhattan Bank for a mortgage loan.

The other half of the property was foreclosed on last year by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is stuck with $8 million in unpaid mortgage loans and is waiting to demolish the buildings.

But Kane said outside the hearing that Schlesinger is preparing to buy three Florida investment properties in Orange and Dade counties to add to the $39 million worth of apartments and condominiums he bought there in the spring.

He said Schlesinger was "very happy" to hear that $1 million was dropped from the county's case.

Pub Date: 9/18/97

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