Prince George's County housing officials suspended the rental license yesterday of controversial landlord and millionaire professor Shao T. Hsu for unsanitary and unsafe conditions at his Emerson Gardens apartments in Hyattsville.
The suspension will prevent Hsu from renting vacant apartments at the three-story brick complex until he corrects numerous housing code violations that the county first cited him for in November.
"He's got a bad place there and he has not demonstrated that he has proper programs in place to keep it up," said William W. Gullett, head of the county's licensing department. "If he doesn't take the proper steps and get the place up to code and the building gets more and more vacant, I'll take steps to evacuate the whole place."
Yesterday, Hsu appeared not to know about the license suspension as he showed a recently hired, part-time maintenance man around Emerson Gardens.
"There are no problems. It's all fixed," Hsu said, as he walked briskly toward his dark green Cadillac.
Gullett decided to suspend indefinitely Hsu's Emerson license after a hearing last week on 127 code violations cited by housing inspectors at the apartment building, including holes in the walls and ceilings, roach infestation and trash and debris in hallways and public areas.
After that hearing, Deputy county attorney John R. Barr issued a statement of findings that said, "There can be no excuse whatsoever for not having established programs of insect eradication, building cleanliness and routine maintenance (plastering, spackling and painting). Nevertheless (Hsu) has apparently disregarded his obligation under the law."
Hsu, a University of Maryland engineering professor, has been cited repeatedly for code violations at Emerson Gardens and other low-income apartment buildings he owns in Prince George's and the District.
In September, housing officials initially refused to renew Hsu's Emerson license until he corrected some housing code problems, and this month Hsu was charged with renting one of four Emerson apartments that inspectors had declared "unfit for human habitation."
That case is scheduled to come before the Prince George's District Court later this month.
Hsu is also being investigated by the FBI for allegedly attempting with former senator Vance Hartke (D-Ind.) to bribe a county housing official to help the two buy and operate several rundown housing projects in Prince George's.
At emerson Gardens yesterday, tenants gave mixed reviews of their landlord.
"He'll get things done for you but it'll take a long time," said Donna Hupp, who has been living in her $195, one bedroom apartment for about a year. "A lot of the things, like cleaning the hallways, we do ourselves," she said.
Across a courtyard strewn with crumpled papers, broken bottles and hundreds of cigarette butts and up a similarly cluttered stairway, Mardi Hastings was more critical of her living conditions.
Sitting beneath a cracked ceiling that has been covered by cardboard since it caved in after a rainstorm over a year ago, Hastings said; "We tell him about the problems and he gets around to them four to six months later. The general maintenance (of the building) is not there."
Hasting said that despite chronic roach problems throughout the 33-unit Emerson Gardens, she can remember only one visit by an exterminator in her three years at the complex. The visit, she said, occurred last month -- after Hsu had been cited by the county.
"There's a real maintenance problem here," said her roommate, Danny Strickland. "As long as Hsu's license is under threat, he does things. As soon as that threat stops, he becomes impossible to find."