Tenants fight evictions at apartments Complainers receive notices to vacate, some residents say

Landlord rejects criticism

Residents, company disagree on issues at Orchard Park

January 12, 1998|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

A number of residents of an upscale apartment complex in Ellicott City allege that the management company is trying to silence its critics by evicting them.

Some tenants of Orchard Park Apartments on Pine Orchard Lane contend that the heavy-handed tactic has left residents too scared to voice complaints.

"This is crazy," says Edward Strauss, a three-year tenant who was served a 30-day eviction notice two weeks ago after he allegedly used profanity toward an employee. "If you tell them that anything's wrong, they throw it back in your face."

Adds his next-door neighbor Brad Sweitzer, who said he fears a similar order: "They won't throw me out. I'll call my attorney before that happens."

A representative of the Shelter Group, the management company, disputes the charges.

"We are managing the property in a professional manner," says regional manager John Shannon. "The validity of their accusations is what I question."

Steven Breeden, vice president of Orchard Park Corp., which owns the apartments and has contracted with the Shelter Group to manage the complex since it opened in 1990, says he, too, is mystified by residents' complaints.

"I don't know what they're talking about," Breeden says. "It's getting to the point where they're beginning to slander the project, and we're getting tired of it."

Orchard Park appears to be a renter's dream. The three-story apartment complex has a townhouse look and offers one- and two-bedroom units with vaulted ceilings and fireplaces. Rents range from $740 to $890 a month.

But tenants say that torn and aging carpets have not been replaced since the complex opened. They also complain of cracked walls and water seeping into apartments.

Sweitzer, who has lived in the unit with his wife and newborn daughter since April, says the lack of weather stripping on his front door allows cockroaches to invade his apartment. He also says the ice maker in his refrigerator turns out brown ice.

Strauss complains of missing patches of grass and failure to sweep up a smashed pumpkin left from Halloween.

Lisa Sobieski, who has lived at the complex for almost three years, says she didn't know about a rape in one of the units last year until a neighbor told her.

"No one said anything to us," Sobieski says. "How scary is that?"

Several residents voiced similar complaints to The Sun, but refused to give their names, saying they feared retaliation from -- the management company.

They point to the fate of tenant Rose Libowitz. Residents say Libowitz, who has lived at the complex since it opened, was told to vacate her apartment in September for no apparent reason.

Libowitz, who is fighting the order in court, declined to comment. Shannon also declined to comment on the case.

Strauss has been ordered to leave because an employee, Tracy Boulet, alleges that he intimidated her by using profanity. Strauss denies the accusation and says he plans to fight eviction.

Veronica Pineyro, a tenant/landlord counselor with Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc. -- which manages a local hot line that offers advice in these types of disputes -- says she's never heard of an eviction notice based on profanity toward an employee.

"I can't remember ever seeing something in a lease specific about language," Pineyro says.

Shannon disputed residents' claims, saying that maintenance crews have cleaned the grounds and exterminated cockroaches.

Shannon also says tenants were not notified of the rape because police considered it an isolated incident. "We didn't feel that we should put folks at risk by alarming them," he says.

Shannon denies that the company targets complaining tenants by threatening to evict them.

"When we issue a notice to vacate, we take it very seriously," he says. "We would not want to damage our reputation by issuing false notices to vacate."

Shannon defends the decision to evict Strauss. "My employee says he used profanity," Shannon says. "I believe my employee."

Breeden says he asked both Strauss and Sweitzer to document any problems in writing but says he has not received anything.

"It's difficult for me to do anything when I don't have anything in my hand that I can use to check off," Breeden says. "We've been happy with Shelter [management]. I have a tough time believing what's going on here."

Pub Date: 1/12/98

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