Violet Toyer, an elderly tenant in the Kenilworth Courts public housing project in far northeast, wanted to do a simple thing - take a warm bath.

Instead of simply turning on the hot and cold taps in her tub to the desired temperature, she began a long and tedious chore:

She filled a roasting pot and three aluminum saucepans with cold water in the kitchen and placed them on the four burners of ther gas stove. After they heated up, she poured the water into a large green plastic bucket, then repeated the process with a second bucket. Next, she lugged both buckets upstair to her tub and poured in the contents. Then she settled herself into the tub to bathe.

Mrs. Toyer's procedure for getting hot water doesn't differ greatly from that of her neighbors. All the tenants at the sprawling, 423-unit public housing project on the D.C.-Prince George's County line have been largely without hot water since last November.

Absence of this familiar creature comfort - hot water - spells prodigious inconvenience for Kenilworth tenants. To wash themselves, their children, their dishes, their clothes, their floors - anything - the tenants must heat water on their kitchen stoves.

They fear their children will scald themselves while carrying hot water for bathing. Many get up extra early in the morning to heat water. Most keep a pot of water simmering on the stove during the day. Some visit relatives elsewhere to take a bath. Some suffer the stiffening of arthritic hands because of the increased use of cold water.

The project's manager and chief engineer both admit there is a long standing hot water problem at the housing development, but they deny it is as serious as the tenants say it is.

"None of the hot water is as hot as it should normally be," said manager Harold Turner. "Everybody has hot water during some of the day, but it's not enough."

"I don't think it is to the point that no one has no hot water," said engineer Charles Jones, but he acknowledged that tenants can never be sure when they will find hot water in their taps. "Sometimes they get it (hot water) sometimes they don't. You don't know where it's going. It's really crazy," Jones said.

"Our main problem is the valves in everybody's sink and tub are wearing out and these regulate the hot and could water," Jones said. He discovered this problem last week and has ordered almost 1,000 replacement valves, he said.

There is also a general problem with the project's circulation systme, Jones said. Homes located farthest from the heating plant have long been plagued with a lack of hot water, he said.

The water is heated, but many times it does not reach these homes, Jones said.

"You can't do anything without hot water . . . Hot water takes care of everything. Everything you do you need hot water," Mrs. Toyer said.

"I have a little grandson and I told him, 'Honey, you have to get used to taking a bath in cold water," said another tenant, who asked to remain anonymous. She said she feared public housing officials might retailate for criticism of living conditions at tie project.

"You get so tired of just heating water," said Pearl Pleze, another tenant standing near her pan-ladened stove. "It's too much trouble. It's a nuisance. You get so disgusted."

"My husband gets up in the morning between 4:30 and 5, and he heats the water for the children," said another tenant who asked for anonymity. "I get them up about 7. We bring the children the water as they need it. We don't let them handle the hot water. I'm afraid of them scalding themselves with the water going up and down the stairs," she said.

Her mornings before school are spent ferrying water to her five school-age children and trying to fix breakfast for them.

Before Pauline Boyds, another tenant, leaves for work in the afternoon, she tells her children to be careful handling the hot water in her absence.

"I don't want somebody calling me that somebody's been scalded," she said. "I don't let my bady (a 12-year-old daughter) take water up and down the steps. It's dangerous."

Before November, Clara Ester, another tenants, used to bathe her partially paralyzed husband two or three times a week. Now she does not bathe him for a week at a time, she said, because "I'm not strong enough to carry the water."

When she does bathe him, she must "heat the water and take it upstairs in a diaper pail," she said ". . . It takes a lot of water to fill my tub. It's pretty hot when I put him in, but I have to take time with him. When I get through washing him the water's gotten cold, so I have to shave him in cold water."

Then there is the problem of washing clothes.Many tenants say they are forced to buy more costly cold-water detergents.

"That's very expensive for me," said Mrs. Toyer. She said she formerly bought a store-brand detergent for hot water and paid about $3 for 10 pounds. Now she says she buys a brand-name cold-water detergent that sells $2.89 for five pounds, four ounces.

Many of the tenants complained of dingy clothes because of the cold water, even though they say they are using more detergent.

Kenilworth tenant Alice Thomas said her doctor told her the frequent use of cold water aggravates the arthritis she suffers in both hands. Her hands have grown so numb, she said, that her daughters must carry the heated water upstairs for her baths.

Several tenants said that on rare occasion if they wake up in the early morning hours, the water is warm. Tenant Rita Walker said she got up about 3 a.m. last Sunday to feed her-week-old son, found the water warm, and wash four-dozen diapers at that time.