A 33-year-old film writer has declared he will not be forced from his Chevy Chase apartment despite the plans of the apartment building's owners to convert the building into expensive townhouse condominiums.
"It's going to take an awful lot to get me out of here," Tom Vines said from his chilly apartment at 6725 Fairfax Rd., where he has lived for the past 15 months.
In an attempt to force him to vacate the apartment, Vines said, the building's owners, Kenwood Forest Associates, turned off his hot water Oct. 5 and have left the apartment without heat this fall.
Early last week, Vines called the Montgomery County environmental protection department to complain about the lack of heat in the apartment. After he filed the complaint, he said, representatives of Kenwood Associates brought him three electric space heaters. Vines said, however, that he can't use more than two of the heaters at a time without blowing a fuse in the apartment.
Vines is one of three tenants remaining in the section of 176 apartments that was once part of the huge Bradley Boulevard Apartments complex. The other two tenants, Chip Wood, a student at American University, and Rosa Reich, a mother with a 4-year-old son, plan to vacate their apartments by Nov. 1. They have also been without heat or hot water.
Diane Higgins, office manager for Kenwood Associates, said eviction proceedings have been started against Vines and Reich. "Those people are in violation. They don't have a lease," she said, adding that they had been told to vacate their apartments by Aug. 31.
Eviction proceedings have not been started against Wood, Higgins said, "because he is there as a guest of the owners."
Several of the 116 proposed condominiums have been completed and new owners are scheduled to begin moving in Nov. 1. The townhouses, which were all sold within a three-week period last August, cost $70,000 to $100,000, said Higgins.
Wearing a heavy woolen sweater and sipping hot coffee, Vines said in his apartment last week that his refusal to leave is in protest of the manner he alleges Kenwood Associates treated its tenants during the past year.
"I basically feel that I've been wronged and that a lot of other people have been wronged," he said. "But more than that they've been treated very crossly, very rudely. It's like treating people like Kleenex - use it once and throw it away."
Vines' refusal to leave his apartment and the resulting eviction proceedings are just the latest in a series of actions that have pitted tenants of the Fairfax Road section of the 35-year-old Bradley Boulevard Apartments against Kenwood Associates and the National Capital Realty Corp., the section's previous owners.
Last April, 20 tenants, including Vines, filed a $100,000 lawsuit against the two firms, charging they were denied two-year leases without sifficient reason as required by a 1973 county landlord-tenant law. The suit has not yet been heard in court.
Stephan Ladisch, one of the plaintiffs, said the tenants also filed two housing discrimination complaints last spring, one with the county human relations commission and the other with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The complaints are based on an informal survey the tenants took last winter of the surnames listed on mail-boxes in all four sections of the Bradley Boulevard Apartments, Ladisch said. The results of the survey indicated that 47 per cent of the tenants in the section scheduled for condominium conversion had Latin or other minority surnames, Ladisch said, compared to 11 per cent in the other sections.
"There was one chance in 10,000 that this kind of distribution of people could be by chance," said Ladisch.
Earlier this month the human relations commission sent the tenants a letter saying the county had found no evidence of discrimination at the apartment complex. Ladisch said the tenants have asked the commission for a review. They have not yet heard from HUD about the second complaint, he added.
The problems between tenants and landlords at the Fairfax Road apartments began last fall when National Capital sold the low-and moderate-income apartments to Kenwood Associates after the state refused National Capital's request for state aid to turn the apartments into moderately priced $30,000 condominiums.
National Capital is listed as a limited partner with a 20 per cent interest in Kenwood Associates.
On Nov. 10, Kenwood Associates gave the tenants six months advance notice to vacate the apartments. The tenants charge, however, that they were harassed by employees of Kenwood Associates to leave much sooner than the 180 days.
"They started demolition 37 days after the notice," said Heather Jafari, another plaintiff in the suit. "There was periodic gas, water and electricity turned off."
One tenant filed a complaint last December with the county's landlord-tenant affairs office about the construction work being done in an apartment directly above his. "He thought the ceiling was going to cave in," said Ladisch.
Michael Hardy, an investigator with the landlord-tenant affairs office, said he inspected the apartment complex and found no violation of law.
Ladisch, however, said that the noise and confusion caused by the construction work forced all the tenants in the first group of apartments slated for conversion to vacate their apartments by Feb. 1 although they could have legally remained until May 10.
The tenants charge that Kenwood Associates never had any intention of letting tenants in the first group scheduled for conversion stay through May 10. In the promotion literature about the proposed condominiums, Ladisch said, May 1 was the date the model townhouses were to be ready for inspection by prospective buyers.
"But the first people had until May 10 to leave legally, so how was that (the conversion of the model townhouses by May 1) supposed to happen?" he said.
Representatives of Kenwood Associates have either refused or been unavailable for comment. However, Le Roy Eakin, a general partner in the firm, said in reference to the tenants' complaints over the past year, "I have a feeling that maybe it's just the whole class thing."
Rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the complex had been $190 to $225. "There is no other place that cheap that will take children in Bethesda-Chevy Chase," said Jafari. Most of the tenants, many of whom spoke little or no English, Jafari said, have been forced to move to Rockville, Silver Spring or Gaithersburg to find comparable rent.