A Severn landlord who agreed in court last month to correct health code violations at 30 properties he owns told a judge yesterday that many of the required repairs are "cosmetic" and that he can't afford to make them.
But Anne Arundel County District Judge Vincent A. Mulieri ordered Mohammad Zuberi and county Health Department attorneys to return to court this month with a list of repairs that both sides agree must be made. The judge then will review repairs still in dispute to determine whether county regulations require them.
Yesterday's hearing marked the latest clash between Zuberi and the Anne Arundel County Health Department, which sued him this year for health and safety violations at all of his properties on Arwell Court, one of the county's most crime-ridden streets. The case was settled last month, after Zuberi agreed to repair all but the vacant units by Oct. 7 or face fines.
Health inspectors spent much of last month compiling a list of what they said are all the violations in Zuberi's properties, which the county's attorneys presented to the court yesterday. Among the items are rotting wood, peeling paint, leaking pipes, electrical hazards and rodent infestations.
Yesterday, Zuberi contended that many of the items on the 87-page list do not violate the county code.
"There are parts that are not exactly health-related, that are not exactly a hazard to human life, and are an item for negotiation with the landlord," Zuberi told Mulieri.
Zuberi, a Columbia resident, said such items include aging wood, air conditioners that don't work properly and nonfunctioning stove burners.
But Assistant County Attorney Howard Nicholson, who sat next to a health code binder as thick as three phone books, told the judge that the county's minimum standards are not a matter of debate.
"He has gone step-by-step and re-dissected the county code. He can't rewrite the county code," Nicholson said. "This is all about money - and not spending it to give people the housing they deserve under the minimum standard."
Zuberi also asked the judge if he could rent his vacant units without making repairs. Under the agreement signed last month, the Health Department agreed not to inspect Zuberi's vacant properties until he rented them. Because of the conditions in his properties, health officials said, 15 of the 30 are vacant. Zuberi said the vacancies are costing him $10,000 a month in rental income.
"It will be at my risk if I rent them to people and they get hurt," he told the judge.
Mulieri denied his request, telling Zuberi that the landlord needs to prove the properties comply with the code before renting them out again.
For Arwell Court residents and other property owners, yesterday's hearing was disheartening. They have long complained that rundown conditions at Zuberi's units contribute to crime and other problems in the neighborhood. They questioned why the judge gave Zuberi an extension to review the violations he'd already agreed to fix.
"Ain't no way in the world that a person can get that many chances," said Glenda Gathers, a community activist. "He's getting his way. That's what it looks like."
Health inspectors who spent the past month compiling the list said they plan to be back in court later this month, when they might be called as witnesses to discuss their reports.