The Goodacre A Apartments at 8619 Piney Branch Rd. in Silver Spring, which were described in yesterday's Washington Post, are managed by the H. G. Smithy Co. and have no business connection with the Goodacre B Apartments at 8617 Piney Branch Rd. which are managed by Paul Maisel. The two complexes are located side by side. Tenants at Goodacre A Apartments organized a rent strike to protest deterioration in their buildings. Tenants in Goodacre B were not involved in the rent strike.
Low and moderate-income tenants at Goodacre Apartments in Silver Spring, buoyed by their month-old rent strike, strolled into the county's Landlord-Tenant Court last week and presented the judge with 50 dead roaches.
Judge Leonard Ruben, who lately has also received dead mice from disgruntled tenants, cracked a smile and listened. "One night when I had nothing to do I chased them around my apartment," he said Lester Langford, an accountant who lives in the Goodacre complex at 8619 Piney Branch Rd.
Such a courtroom display illustrates a growing defiance among many Montgomery County tenants who are less and less willing to tolerate the annoyances of life in deteriorating buildings - the leaky faucets and powerless electrical sockets and the ceilings that drip when it rains and snows.
Rent controls that held annual rent increases to under 5 percent made the needling irritations of old buildings more bearable. But when rent controls were lifted at the end of 1977 and landlords raised rents - in some cases 25 per cent or more - to recoup economic losses and meet soaring costs, the suppressor annoyance of many tenants turned to open angel.
"They say now that they are paying more, they are not willing to put up with the conditions they tolerated when their rents were lower," said Judge Ruben, who said his caseload has grown noticeably since the first of the year.
There were twice as many complaints by landlords and tenants to the County's Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs in the first three months of 1977 and this months the Montgomery County Tenants Association organized its first voter registration drive to make tenants more influential in elections.
"There is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction and people are getting more disgruntled and frustrated," said Ted Schneyer, a leader in the tenants association.
For years both landlords and tenants in the county have engaged in a familiar duel of complaints: the tenants have criticized their landlords for failing to properly maintain their property, while the landlords have complained that growing governmental regulations and climbing utility costs have consumed the cash that otherwise would have been available for repairs.
At the Goodacre Apartments, tenants recalled how housing inspectors would make their annual visits, take notes and "inspect and inspect and inspect." But they said, the walls stayed soggy and the cold air leaked through warped window casements.
Yet, Patrick Hoffman, attorney for the H. G. Smithy Co. which manages the Goodacre property, said that because the project was losing money under its government-regulated rent structure, "the landlord could not afford to make the repairs."
With approval from the Federal Housing Administration, the Smithy Co. raised rents by up to $30 and arranged to make several improvements such as repairing leaky roofs, according to Hoffman.
However, the prospects of the new rent increase on top of an $11 to $14 rent increase which took effect only months before - with no apparent improvements made in between - propelled the tenants into what is believed to be the first rent strike in the county.
"We're not rabble-rousers." said Donald Thompson, the president of the Goodacre Apartments Tenants Association which organized in May. "But when that rent increase came around sending rents for one-bedroom units from $169 to $198 and rents for two bedroom apartments from $189 to $220, some tenants got so angry that I said, let's hold a meeting and see how strong the people are."
One evening about 200 tenants, most of whom did not know each other, gathered in the courtyard of the Goodacres complex and compared notes. As they stood near their four-story brick buildings, many of the senior citizens, students, blue-collar workers, professionals and ethnic minorities found they had something in common. They were no longer willing to live with the damp walls, peeling paint, dirty hallways, and cracked sidewalks - all problems the buildings' manager's acknowledged.
Chandler Gulati, an engineer, said he finally removed the pictures from the wall of his living room after persistent dampness caused by the leaky roof in his building. The trash barrels outside Stewart Githens' basement roof in his building.
Many women said that because the outdoor lights frequently were burned out they were afraid to walk at night between their apartments and their cars through the enclosed alleyways and dark courtyards.
About 60 of the occupants of the 152-unit complex agreed at the meeting in mid-May to participate in a rent strike, and pay their rents into a special escrow account supervised by a lawyer.
"The percentage increase was way too high", complained Stewart Githens, an appliance repairman. "If you're paying $500, then $31 more is nothing, but when you're paying what we are, that's a lot of money."
Most Goodacre tenants' incomes range from $4,500 to $15,000.
When the withheld rents during June, the first month of the strike, amounted to $14,000, the landlord went to Judge Ruben's court to repairs had begun. Workmen have poured new cement for sidewalks and started building new roofs and a janitorial service has been hired, Hoffman said.
However, Judge Ruben ruled that until such "dangerous defects" as poor electrical wiring, "falling" plaster and other deterioration is corrected to the approval of a court-appointed administrator, the tenants may continue to pay rents into the escrow fund.
He also ordered the landlord to roll back the rent increases until the repairs are made.