Firm draws tenant anger

Units at Landex-owned Kingsley Park didn't meet standards in inspections

Official says changes were made

Company also faces complaints from renters at Broadway Overlook

October 12, 2003|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Landex Corp., the company that Baltimore County is pressuring to renovate the dilapidated Kingsley Park Apartments in Essex, has been the target of angry tenants -- and legal action -- resulting from conditions there and at a new Baltimore townhouse complex.

At Kingsley Park, residents have formed a tenants association and are planning to place their monthly rents in escrow in hopes of getting repairs made quickly. And last week, at the urging of Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development performed two surprise inspections that found that 34 of 39 apartments did not meet housing standards.

At Broadway Overlook, a new, $50 million complex at Broadway and Fayette Street in East Baltimore, tenants filed for a federal court injunction to block a plan that would have placed all homes for the underprivileged in one section. The request was withdrawn after Landex President Judith S. Siegel agreed to scatter those homes among others that it will sell.

"People finally got a choice where to live," said Harry Karas, a tenant council president at Broadway Overlook. "The shame of it is that we had to take her to court to get that choice."

Both complexes are key to local redevelopment plans.

Kingsley Park, a World War II-era complex, sits in the heart of the county's ambitious east-side revitalization zone, where new housing is sprouting and where more than $800 million in state and county funds have been committed or spent to help the faded rust belt along the Chesapeake Bay.

Broadway Overlook, owned and managed by Landex, is part of the city's multimillion-dollar effort to eliminate dingy, crime-ridden residential high-rises. It replaced the razed high-rises known as Broadway Homes.

Both complexes have also sparked residents' complaints about crime and maintenance problems.

"Nobody wants to hear us," said tenant Lisa Butt, who lives on Dartford Road in Kingsley Park. "It's like we're invisible people."

Siegel defends her company's record at Kingsley Park and Broadway Overlook.

She complained of an "extraordinary workload" for the Kingsley Park maintenance staff and said Landex, which is based in Baltimore, had acted by firing the property manager last year and recently terminating two maintenance workers. Problems at Broadway Overlook, she said, have been overstated by Karas, and most have been repaired.

Siegel, who says the county has not cooperated with her vision for Kingsley Park, declined to be interviewed and instead partially answered written questions from The Sun. Neither she nor her attorney returned numerous e-mails and phone calls on follow-up questions.

County officials have given Landex a Nov. 30 deadline for presenting plans for refurbishing Kingsley Park, which it owns and manages. Officials say Siegel has threatened to extend the life of the complex for 30 years -- instead of altering it to make room for single-family homes and a mixture of income levels.

Siegel says she was upset with the way the county treated her regarding formulation of a renovation plan for Kingsley Park, so she threatened to seek refinancing from HUD for a 30-year mortgage with exclusive reliance on Section 8 housing vouchers. Under that plan, the complex would have provided homes solely for the disadvantaged.

"We were put in a defensive position after we learned that the county met with Senator Mikulski's office without including us after we had prepared a conceptual redevelopment plan based upon their recommendations," Siegel said. "We were forced to withdraw the redevelopment plan and take the simple way out, which is permitted under the law, to get the county and HUD's attention.

"It was successful. Everyone is listening now."

In its request for a workable blueprint for Kingsley Park, the county has asked that Landex reduce the density of subsidized, low-income residences while making room for single-family homes and larger, more modern apartments -- with a small percentage as HUD rentals.

If Landex balks, County Executive James T. Smith Jr. has pledged to use all the county's powers -- code enforcement and legal action among them -- on the company and Kingsley Park.

"Conditions at Kingsley Park are deplorable," said Jackie Nickel, president of the Back River Neck Peninsula Community Association. Kingsley Park is on the peninsula.

"The place is dangerous. I am tired of telling my family and guests to find another route to avoid driving past Kingsley Park. We live here; we travel here. Judy Siegel doesn't."

Mikulski requested last week's HUD inspections after receiving dozens of tenant complaints, including broken windows and rodent infestations. A detailed report is due this week.

She described living conditions as "absolutely unacceptable." She added, "All families have a right to be safe in their homes and safe in their communities. ... That's why I asked HUD to immediately investigate."

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