Errors irk city homeowner

Mistakes: Two years ago, housing officials told William Gray they would fix problems caused by a demolition. The work wasn't done, but they billed him, and put his house up for auction.

April 14, 1999|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

The rowhouses, torn down by the city nearly two years ago, are mostly forgotten as grass grows uncontrollably in the East Baltimore craters.

But for William Gray, who lives next to the vacant lots in the 200 block of N. Montford Ave., repeated city billing errors and unrepaired damage to his property are a daily reminder of the once-condemned houses.

In the latest error, Gray, 52, was notified two weeks ago that his house was scheduled for public auction May 17-20, for failure to pay the city almost $2,600. Gray said the alleged debt stemmed from the city mistakenly billing him for a retaining wall built after the demolition.

While the auction block appeared removed from the scenario yesterday, Gray said he's frustrated and has had more than his share of city slip-ups.

"I don't owe them anything, not one red cent," Gray said. "How much more mental anguish do they think I can take?"

Zack Germroth, a spokesman for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, said the city erred again by failing to eliminate the bill from Gray's record. The department is removing Gray's house from the auction list, Germroth added.

"He absolutely should not be billed for the wall, the interest or anything," Germroth said.

The spokesman said he did not know why the problem wasn't fixed after the first mistake was discovered last year, but suggested that it might be computer error. "There's no excuse for that," he said.

Gray, alerted about the promised correction by The Sun, said he's skeptical.

"Unless I see it in writing then I'll believe it," he said.

Since the two rowhouses came down in June 1997, Gray said, he's had nothing but problems.

"I wouldn't buy another house in this city," he said.

Gray claims the demolition work caused a large hole in his kitchen wall, cracks in the front of his house and on the inside walls, and a damaged cornice.

A year later, the city sent him a $2,357.94 bill for building a brick wall to shore up the side of his house. Interest applied to the bill raised it to nearly $2,600.

Housing officials took responsibility for the damage and acknowledged that the bill should have gone to the owner of the demolished neighboring property.

The officials told Gray that they would work with him to repair his house and would erase the bill -- and the interest -- from his records.

"As you can see, nothing has been done," said Gray, pointing to the plywood brace and cracks on his kitchen wall.

Gray said the city agreed to do renovations -- fixing doors, windows and walls and installing central air conditioning -- rather than purchasing the house, where he has lived since 1984 and owned for almost six years.

The city did patchwork repairs, Gray said, and he was instructed to hire a contractor to give him an estimate for the renovations.

However, he said, he could only get an air-conditioning contractor to come to his house.

"Once I told them [contractors] the city would pay for the work, they wouldn't come out," Gray said. "I must have called 25 contractors."

Germroth said housing officials would visit Gray's house by next week and provide estimates for work.

"We certainly would like to settle up with him," Germroth said.

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