Tenants of 2630 Adams Mill Rd. NW, who twice lighted bonfires in front of their apartment building as a protest during three weeks without heat, were warm again last week.
The lack of heat during some of the coldest days this winter was the latest in a series of problems faced by the building's approximately 130 residents, most of whom have low incomes.
More than 220 violations of the D.C. housing code were found in the building nearly 18 months ago, and some are still not corrected, tenants claim.
The violations ranged from defective electrical outlets and fixtures to defective cook stoves and loose plaster, said Bernard Jones, supervisor of the housing code regulation division of the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development.
An inspector who looked over the building again last week found new violations, including broken windows and crumbling front steps, said Jones.And, he said, "In our estimation the basic work that was on the list of violations (first found in September 1976) has not been done."
Residents said the heat went off Jan. 22 when the basement boiler room was flooded by melting ice and snow. The water seeped through the walls and caused the boiler to break down.
The heat was finally back on early last week after a new boiler was installed.
Many tenants heated their apartments by leaving on the burners of their gas stoves "night and day, constantly, for over 20 days," said Betty Merritt, a resident. Tenants pay their own utility bills, and several said they expect their next gas bills to be very high.
"The gas company told me that the stoves shouldn't be run constantly because the fumes could be fatal," said Scottie Thomas, spokesman for the newly formed tenants' association that organized the bonfire protests.
Lester Carpenter Leonard Jr., an attorney who managed the building until last week and owns a 10 percent interest in it, said, "Heavy rains in January flooded the room and cracked the main boiler." Leonard said he "immediately" ordered the installation of a new $16,000 boiler.
Some tenants went to stay with friends until the heat was on again. One woman with two sets of twins, aged 14 months and 3 years, had to move out temporarily on the advice of her doctor, residents said.
There are 28 children in the 34-unit building.
Tenants have gone "four months without hot water. We have to heat it in the kitchen and move it to the bathroom," Merritt said.
Although major violations of the D.C. housing code were discovered a year and a half ago, many of the required repairs have not been made, several tenants said.
"Rats, roaches, bad plumbing, broken windows, electrical violations - you name any housing violations, and I can find them in this building," said Thomas.
Housing department official Jones said that violations found by inspectors included rats and roaches, missing floor tiles, ill-fitting windows, rotten window frames, defective front steps, peeling paint, loose plaster, leaking faucets, no faucet handles, no window screens and defective ceiling fixtures, cook stoves and electrical outlets.
He explained that after a housing inspector goes to a building, he files a written report, which is presented to the landlord.
If the landlord fails to make the repairs within 60 days, the city can use a fund from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to make the repairs and then bill the landlord.
As long as a landlord can show some effort to make repairs, however, he usually can forestall city action for much longer than 60 days, as has happened in the case of the Adams Mill Road building.
Larry Carr, a city housing inspector, said that when he re-inspected the building last December, "some of the complaints were not corrected or were corrected improperly." Last week's inspection showed most of the violations still present, said Jones.
Former building manager Leonard claimed last week that "most of the violations have been fixed except the plaster and painting. All the plumbing and electrical work had been done.
"We try to be humanitarian. Almost one-third of the tenants there don't pay their rent," Leonard said. "Tenants living in the building now owe $13,000 in rent" and others have moved out owing another $21,000, he added.
Thomas, the tenants' spokesman, said that while some residents are delinquent in rent payments, the sum owed is "nowhere near $13,000. It is more like $4,000 or $5,000."
Rents range from $94 per month for a bachelor apartment to $166 for a two-bedroom unit.
The resident manager of the building received a letter from Leonard last week saying that the building was being placed under new management "effective immediately." The letter said that tenants would "be advised bery shortly of changes in procedure," but tenants said this week that they have not been told anything more about the management change. Leonard could not be reached for comment after the letter was received.