Intense Sewage Stink, Mold Force Renters Out

By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 18, 2007

In the thick heat, the stomach-churning stench neighbors said had emanated from 1640 New Jersey Ave. NW for months seemed almost enough to knock a passerby down. But it wasn't until District police and a fire department hazmat crew descended on the two-family rowhouse over the weekend that the source of the stink was revealed.

D.C. authorities evacuated at least six people from the white brick building in the Shaw neighborhood Saturday night after emergency workers discovered a thick stew of sewage several feet deep welling up in a basement crawl space. It had caused an explosion of toxic mold that made the building uninhabitable, according to the building's owner and other witnesses.

"I've been to some raggedy houses, but that joint there takes the cake," said Alex Mack, 28, a Roto-Rooter plumber who was called in for repairs by the building's owner, M.A. Karim, shortly after it was evacuated.

A fire spokesman said he had no immediate information on the incident.

Karim, 51, said yesterday that he had been out of the country for two months and didn't know that conditions had become so bad at the residence until he received a call from city authorities Saturday evening. He said he rarely heard from the family that rented the top floor of the building in the two years they lived there. Karim said the tenants, who are Hispanic and spoke little English, never told him about the problem. They paid $1,000 a month for the three-bedroom apartment, he said.

"Conditions inside are very good. But the problem was the water got in there," Karim said.

The family's name was not immediately available yesterday, and they could not be reached to comment.

In a first-floor apartment that Karim said he has long planned to renovate, an overpowering smell of raw waste permeated the air. In the bathroom, the walls were black with mold, and floorboards torn up by plumbers after the evacuation were spongy. In the kitchen, streams of grease and mold clung to the walls like Spanish moss on a cypress.

Karim said he will probably pay thousands of dollars to have a water main break on the property fixed and to repair the rest of the building.

"Whatever the problem, we'll take care of it," Karim said. "Nobody will live here until it gets fixed."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company