A sap for a tenant

Investment Building: Baltimore County should have ensured the landlord complied with the lease.

July 07, 2000

A TENANT that pays more than $1 million in rent annually should make sure its landlord complies with the terms of the lease. Why Baltimore County didn't make the owners of Investment Building in Towson fix the building's ventilation system -- as required in a 1996 lease -- is puzzling.

The building's heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system has been a source of complaints for years. Many of the nearly 700 county and state employees in the building say offices are hot and stuffy. Now the HVAC system is suspected as the cause of the outbreak of respiratory illnesses and rashes among the office workers.

Last year, after an employee contracted Legionnaire's disease, the legionella bacterium was discovered in the building's cooling system, which was then flushed and disinfected. Inspectors also have found mold in interior air handling units and ventilation ducts.

As part of the lease renewal four years ago, A.M.G. Realty Partners, the building's New York owners, agreed to remove two aging rooftop ventilation units and replace them with four new ones. The work was never done.

Under terms of the lease, the county had the option of doing the work itself and deducting the cost from its rental payments. The county never took advantage of this provision.

The landlord is now beginning to make the needed changes.

Slipshod monitoring of the building and its lease is disturbing. Employees rightly contend that top county officials have failed to look after their health and welfare.

Taxpayers also have a right to be upset. The county should be getting value for the money it is spending on its leases. County officials have an obligation to see that the government is not shortchanged at the Investment Building or at any other location where the county pays rent.

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