- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2001

The owner of two Northwest apartment buildings where tenants have been without heat for two months faces $34,420 in fines after a regulatory agency found his property in violation of several building and fire codes, city officials said yesterday.

In the last two weeks, the District of Columbia's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs issued 498 building- and fire-code violations against Paulos Alen and his company, Independence Management Co. Inc., which currently owns the 30-unit property in the 1300 block of Euclid Street.

A few tenants have since been relocated to a nearby motel. City officials said last night that heat and hot water should be restored by tonight.

The department issued the violations against IMC Inc. between Dec. 18 and Wednesday after five separate inspections revealed the buildings had faulty smoke detectors in apartments and no heat, hot water or electricity. The department began the inspections after officials received several complaints from tenants.

The citations include seven violations for lack of heat and hot water; 12 violations for faulty or broken smoke detectors; six violations for missing detectors; and two violations for defective windows, according to department officials.

Other infractions include no electricity, emergency-exit obstruction and exterior trash and debris. Another 433 citations are for cosmetic infractions like chipped paint, and 32 are for fire-code violations, department officials said.

A telephone call seeking comment from Mr. Alen and IMC Inc. was not returned yesterday. However, the company issued a written statement late last week to respond to the ongoing building-maintenance problems, some of which the company blamed on vandalism.

"We have been continuously working to keep basic heat and hot-water service running the past two months," the statement reads. "A combination of an old building and nonstop vandalism has hampered our progress. Independent contractors have repeatedly repaired the boiler and hot-water tanks only to be destroyed by people breaking into the boiler room. The locks have been kicked down and doors busted."

The one-page statement further asks residents to contribute to the upkeep of the buildings. "Maintaining a building is a collective effort between our firm, the tenants and the neighborhood," the statement concludes. "No management company can win a war against a drug-infested and violent neighborhood on its own."

Since October, tenants 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 units warm.

City officials said last week IMC Inc., which charges $400 to $500 a month in rent, was given notice on Dec. 21 that the boiler had to be fixed. The cracked boiler 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 last Thursday found that the boiler had not been repaired.

City officials said yesterday that IMC Inc. will be given a deadline to pay its fines and to repair the property. If the fines are not paid, then a lien will be filed against the property, officials said. Criminal charges also can be pursued.

Meanwhile, only two tenants spent another night at the motel last night after city officials and the Red Cross moved them there late Tuesday. Other tenants continued to stay in their apartments, using space heaters and extra blankets to keep warm, according to Erik Gaull, acting city administrator.

IMC Inc. told tenants late last week that heat and hot water would be restored by the beginning of this week. A new boiler and hot-water heater were installed, but the equipment could not work because of leaky water- and heating-pipes, Mr. Gaull said.

"Each time the boiler was fired up, the pipes would start to leak," he said. Mr. Gaull projected the pipes would be fixed by tonight.


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