- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 3, 2001

A group of D.C. tenants left without heat for the past two months spent another weekend hovering over tiny space heaters or gas stoves to keep warm as temperatures outside sank below freezing.

Residents living in a two-building complex in the 1300 block of Euclid Street NW said yesterday they are still waiting for the landlord Independence Management Company Inc. to repair the boiler. Tenants say the landlord promised to restore the heat by the end of last week.

"This is very bad," said tenant Claudia Diaz, 67, on her way to spend another night at her son's home. "Two months and no heat and sometimes no water. Nothing. I'm lucky to stay with my son."

Yesterday, IMC Inc. officials said a new boiler would be installed and working by the end of today. A statement issued by the company Friday indicated to the media and tenants that "the work should be completed today."

An IMC Inc. official who was overseeing the repairs at the apartment building yesterday said the manager worked through the holiday weekend with different repair companies to speed up the process. The official said parts of the new boiler had to be special-ordered from Pennsylvania, causing the delay.

"I've been on call all this weekend, working the telephone, making sure the parts would get here quickly," said the official, who did not want to be identified for this story. "We're doing everything we can to fix this."

According to city officials, tenants were to be relocated last night to a nearby motel, where they are expected to stay for at least three days.

Meanwhile, workers from a heating and plumbing company, John C. Flood, in the District spent most of the day breaking apart the building's old 5,000-pound boiler and loading its pieces onto the back of a truck. From there, the boiler, which workers estimate to be at least 35 years old, will be taken to a scrap yard.

"We're hoping to have the new boiler working by Wednesday night," said repairman Mike Harris. "At least the residents will be warm soon."

Some tenants who live in the 30-unit complex said they have lost trust in their landlord and no longer believe they will have heat in the near future.

"I don't believe it anymore," tenant Yobany Aquino said. "We didn't have water and heat for months. Why should we believe him now?"

City officials said last week the landlord, who charges between $400 to $500 a month in rent, was given notice Dec. 21 that the boiler had to be fixed. The old boiler was cracked and began to leak, according to several repairmen.

IMC Inc. immediately provided a space heater for each apartment, but some blew fuses and could not be used. Four days later, on Christmas Day, the tenants were left without hot water and electricity. An inspection of the building Thursday found that the boiler had not been repaired.

"We still pay rent, and we don't have heat to stay warm," Mrs. Diaz said. "It's not right."

But company officials have changed that. They said in a written statement that they will not collect rent for the month of January.

Since October, residents have had to wear three or four layers of clothing to keep warm at night. Some turn on the burners on their gas stoves and leave the oven door open for 30 minutes at a time to keep their places warm.

Others, like Juan Florez, 26, and his wife, Alba, sit in their car and leave it running with the heat on to keep their 2 and 1/2-year-old son, Daniel, from getting cold.

"It's very cold in the building," Mr. Florez said as he and his family sat in his red truck parked in front of the complex yesterday afternoon. "It's been a long time since we've had heat."

After learning of the situation last week, city officials have been trying to help the residents. The city restored power last Friday morning so the residents could have light in their homes. A Metro bus also was brought in and left running with the heat on so residents could spend the night inside.

Erik Gaull, acting city administrator, said last night the city had no other choice but to intervene in this case. Mr. Gaull said city officials also have ordered an inspection of all properties operated by IMC Inc. According to company officials, IMC Inc. owns more than 20 buildings in the District.

"We're not going to sit by and watch landlords abuse their tenants like this," Mr. Gaull said. "We've been getting the wheels moving faster to correct the situation."

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