Balto. County plans inspections of other houses after fatal fire

Officials will look at properties owned by landlord of home

October 03, 2001|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County's Housing Office will inspect other properties owned by the landlord of a Dundalk home that burned Friday, killing a mother and her four daughters, and might revoke his participation in a federally subsidized housing program, officials said yesterday.

The county holds Section 8 rental assistance contracts for other houses owned by the landlord, identified in records as Edmund Ogonowski.

Officials are searching records to determine how many Section 8 units he owns or manages. One unit he does own is a house on the 6800 block of Dunbar Road, the block where the house burned. That contract will be terminated if Ogonowski fails to correct violations of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's standards found in a recent inspection, officials have warned.

The county has no record of problems with other properties. But because of Ogonowski's history of housing violations, Lois Cramer, administrator of the county's Housing Office, sent him a notice by certified mail Monday informing him that the county would make unannounced inspections of his units, said Elise Armacost, spokeswoman for County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

If the inspections turn up no problems, it would be difficult for the county to decide whether to revoke Ogonowski's participation in the Section 8 program, said Maureen Robinson, spokeswoman for the county Department of Social Services.

"You hate to see units that are available to poor families taken off the market," she said. "On the other hand, this [fire] is a disaster."

The county has sent several letters to Ogonowski over the past six months advising him of problems with the house that burned and other properties, but officials question whether the right person received them.

Edmund Ogonowski Sr. owns many properties in the city and county, and they are managed by his sons, John and Edmund Jr. The house that burned was managed by Edmund Ogonowski Jr., said John Ogonowski.

The county correspondence is addressed to Edmund Ogonowski, with no notation of junior or senior, at a Reisterstown address.

John and Edmund Sr. said during the weekend that they knew of no problems with the house that burned, and Edmund Jr. did not return telephone calls yesterday and Monday.

In July, a routine Housing Office inspection of the house, rented by Michele Ferguson, turned up eight problems, including the lack of a working smoke detector on the second floor and soot on the furnace, an indication it wasn't burning fuel properly.

Because the Housing Office got no response to its letters to Edmund Ogonowski and found a month later that the problems hadn't been corrected, it terminated the Section 8 contract on the house in August, a routine step.

The county told Ferguson, 38, that she could stay in the house, at her own risk and without rental assistance, or she could get a voucher to move. She had an appointment two weeks ago to get the voucher but missed the meeting.

The county rescheduled, and on Sept. 26, she went to the Housing Office in Towson with her father, Robert Ferguson. They left with a voucher to allow her to move to a four-bedroom apartment.

Next, she was to find a new apartment, negotiate with the landlord and enter into a lease. By Friday, she hadn't had time to find a new place, said her mother, Carol Ferguson.

"She hadn't gotten all that together, but she had planned on moving because of the situation," Carol Ferguson said.

And since the inspection in July, the situation had gotten worse, Carol Ferguson said. Three windows in the house had broken during a recent storm, and Michelle Ferguson hadn't been able to get in touch with her landlord to get them fixed, her mother said.

It was 51 degrees Friday night in Dundalk, and Michelle Ferguson had four girls at home: Ina Johnson, 11; India Johnson, 9; Asia Jones, 2 and Ariel Jones, 1.

To keep warm, Ferguson put an electric heater upstairs and used the stove to heat downstairs, her parents said.

Yesterday, investigators hadn't determined the cause of the fire, said Lt. Vernon S. Adamson of the Baltimore County Fire Department. Firefighters have said it appeared the fire started in the kitchen.

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