County finds 150 violations at apartments in Essex

Surprise checkup targets site key to renewal plans

November 22, 2003|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

A "blitz" inspection yesterday by a team of Baltimore County investigators at Kingsley Park apartments - a complex at the center of a redevelopment battle between the county and the landlord - uncovered housing infractions in nearly 150 units and several more serious violations, including raw sewage in basements.

Timothy M. Kotroco, county director of Permits and Development Management, said Landex Corp., owner of the Essex complex, will need to address the worst violations within 48 hours.

They include raw waste in boiler rooms of three buildings; nonexistent or inadequate fire-stop ceilings over boilers; uncovered paint and thinner stored next to boilers; and exposed wires and electrical junction boxes.

The inspections came 10 days before the deadline set by County Executive James T. Smith Jr. for Landex Corp. to submit a redevelopment plan for a mix of housing, including residences for seniors and single-family homes. Federal inspectors also visited the site twice last month after tenants complained about living conditions.

"Our multi-agency blitz came at a time Kingsley Park was being fixed up after a separate federal housing inspection found numerous violations several weeks ago, so we saw the site at its best," Kotroco said.

He said the grounds were being spruced up and some new stoves and refrigerators had been installed at the World War II-era property, home to more than 300 tenants. "But like one of our inspectors said, `It's like putting perfume on a pig's ear,' " Kotroco said.

The nearly two dozen county inspectors also found less serious problems, including roach and rodent infestations, inoperable smoke detectors, improperly grounded electrical outlets and sprinklers that were either rusty or painted over.

Most of the less severe violations must be remedied in 30 days, Kotroco said,

Of the nearly 150 apartments inspected, Kotroco said, only one was free of violations. "That apartment's resident did all of his own repair work, including painting."

Gerard Martin, an attorney for Judith S. Siegel, president of Landex, said Siegel knew the inspectors had been at Kingsley Park. "The inspection [yesterday] was surprising. We are supposed to be working together. But the county does what the county wants to do," he said.

Some tenants at the complex, which provides subsidized housing to low-income families, have received within the last week a list of maintenance charges for "Damages Beyond Normal Wear and Tear." The fees go into effect Dec. 1.

They include $100 to repair a toilet tank and bowl; $200 for a cabinet drawer and $35 for a smoke alarm.

"What this does is intimidate residents at Kingsley Park who already have their backs against the wall financially," said Damian O'Doherty, a spokesman for the county executive. "They can't afford this, so do they just stop reporting problems to management, to the county?"

Toni Norton, a Kingsley Park resident and vice president of the tenant association, said she doesn't worry about additional costs if something goes wrong in her apartment.

"I don't care about any list, if I have to have something fixed, I call management," said Norton. "What else can I do?"

Several officials said that the violations found yesterday could serve as leverage in Smith's battle with Landex over Kingsley Park's future. Smith and his predecessor, Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, have been trying to change the property, located in the center of one of the eastern county's major revitalization zones.

Siegel has submitted a plan to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which holds the mortgage, that would leave the complex as it is.

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