Apartment tenant claims eviction after she complained is retaliatory But landlord says renter was critical of staff and complex

January 27, 1998|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Complaints of alleged harassment and retaliatory evictions at a posh, three-story apartment complex in Ellicott City made it to court yesterday.

Security Development Corp., which owns Orchard Park Apartments on Pine Orchard Lane, is asking Howard County District Judge Neil Edward Axel to enforce a notice to vacate issued to Rose Libowitz last September.

Libowitz is fighting the order, asserting that she is the target of a retaliatory eviction.

"I've lived in apartments all my life, and I've never been treated like this," Libowitz told Axel. "I've lost sleep and I cry all the time. I'm in turmoil."

Late yesterday, the judge said he would issue a written ruling this week.

"This is a very delicate matter that requires some research," Axel said.

Yesterday's trial -- which comes after several other residents complained of problems with the complex's management -- illustrates the complexity of landlord-tenant disputes.

Landlords are prohibited by state law from evicting residents if they have filed a written complaint with the landlord or a public housing agency, filed a lawsuit against the landlord or joined a tenant association.

But they are permitted to refuse to renew a lease without giving a reason.

John Shannon, regional manager for the Shelter Group, which manages Orchard Park, testified that problems with Libowitz began last summer when the management staff learned that she was urging potential and current residents not to live at the upscale apartment complex, which offers one- and two-bedroom units for as much as $890 a month.

"We have had complaints from residents and prospects that she was stopping them and bad-mouthing the staff," Shannon told the court. "When I talked to Ms. Libowitz, she said, yes, she was stopping residents and prospects, but she said she wasn't saying all these bad things."

Shannon also testified that the defendant interrupted a staff meeting and verbally intimidated the employees. He accused Libowitz of funding several dozen fliers that were placed on cars and accused management of harassing residents.

"The poster was one element of several elements to not renew the lease," Shannon said, adding that the 60-day notice to vacate the apartment was dated Sept. 12. "We felt that her behavior was a detriment to the Orchard Park community."

But Libowitz, who has lived at the complex since it opened in 1990, testified that the problems began when she started to complain about the staff's ignoring maintenance requests. Libowitz said she received "flippant responses" from the staff when she reported problems.

Libowitz acknowledged that she had talked to a prospective tenant, but she denied urging the prospect to live somewhere else.

Two witnesses, resident Brad Sweitzer and Shelley Harris, whose parents Ed and Cyrile Strauss are also residents, told the court that during a community meeting last August, Shannon had publicly threatened to remove tenants if they complained.

But two other residents, Courtney Losey and Carl W. Kramer Jr., testified that Shannon never made such a statement.

Kim M. Henry, an attorney representing Libowitz, and Julie E. Squire, a lawyer speaking for Security Development, declined to comment after the hearing.

Since the complaints surfaced, the Shelter Group has mailed surveys to all 204 units at the complex. In a Jan. 15 letter accompanying the surveys, Paula W. Buis, chief financial officer and managing director of the Shelter Group, acknowledged that the mailing resulted from a Sun article two weeks ago chronicling residents' complaints.

Sweitzer dismissed the surveys as a public relations ploy.

"They're doing it to make themselves look good," he said. "I don't think anything good is going to come out of it."

Pub Date: 1/27/98

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