Arlington County should toughen its housing code and start taking landlords who violate it frequently to court, the chairman of the county's Landlord-Tenant Commission told the county board last week.
William R. Weissman, chairman of the commission, cited Arlington Towers Apartments in Rosslyn as an example of a complex where there has been a continuing stream of complaints. Although frequent violators are a minority of the landlords in Arlington, Weissman said, they have escaped prosecution so far mainly because of a prevalent belief that the court system is too slow to handle the problem.
"We ought to test that and we ought to bring the cases over and over again," said Weissman.
The landlord-tenant commission has referred to Arlington's commonwealth attorney, William S. Burroughs Jr., a series of tenant complaints involving Arlington Towers and asked him to investigate them and initiate legal action if warranted.
"Arlington Towers is a problem this commission has spent more time with than any other in the last two years," Weissman said.
Weissman spoke at the county board's regular meeting, during which the board set aside its agenda temporarily to hear from tenants from Arlington Towers and other complexes who complained of problems with heating and hot water.
"The allegation has been made that we sort of go along with the landlords," said board chairman Joseph S. Wholey. Wholey asked the county manager to develop some recommendations on whether the county housing code or enforcement procedures might need modification.
Critics of the housing code enforcement said the problem was not one of graft, or failures of inspectors to do their job, but a philosophical problem. Weissman said that the county has pursued the correction of individual-violations, rather than dealing with landlords more comprehensively.
"We are not concerned with particular violations." We want compliance in the long run," he said. "We want to prevent future violations." The Commission has no actual role in the enforcement of the housing code but serves as an advisory group to the county board.
Tenants from Arlington Towers, the Ft. Bennett apartments and other complexes filled the room and spoke briefly about their problems.
John Reeder, president of the Ft. Bennett tenants association, said, and county inspectors confirmed, that a boiler in that complex had been found defective last May. It was not replaced and went out in October, he said. "At least 70 of us were without heat," he said. He also said that tenants experienced problems with the hot water supply.
"It's pointless to review all the things that have happened at Arlington Towers," said Carol Isebrands, a tenant there. The buildings "are almost unlivable from time to time," she said.