For nearly two weeks, as temperatures hovered around the freezing mark, 60 residents of an Adams-Morgan apartment house lived from one day to the next not knowing if they would have heat or hot water in their crowded, drafty building.
The tenants, mostly low-income Hispanos, said they were without heat for 11 straight days. Clad in thermal underwear, street clothes and coats in an effort to keep warm, they also wrapped their children in quilts and blankets. Gas stoves were kept burning brightly and tenants boiled water to create some heat in the two-story building at 2714 Quarry Rd. NW. The tenants include about 20 children.
Heat was restored briefly to the apartments Friday evening. It stayed on for three days, and went off again Tuesday morning, tenants said.
City officials said that heat was first restored when they ordered the landlord, Nick Rangoussis of Silver Spring, Md., to put oil in the tanks. He did, but when the heat went off again Tuesday, the city dispactched an oil truck to the building to fill the tanks.
During the 11 days in which tenants were without heat, they tried unsuccessfully to contact Rangoussis, according to Alberto Gomez, counselor with Housing Counseling Services, Inc., an agency that frequently helps Adams-Morgan residents with housing problems.
In the midst of their struggle to stay warm, tenants were notified Tuesday by Rangoussis that they will face an increase in their rent in March because of the high cost of fuel. Gomez said that residents currently pay an average rent of $200 a month, not counting cooking gas and electricity.
Residents met Saturday with Gomez to discuss possible legal action against Rangoussis. A building tenants' organization was formed, and residents decided to meet with an attorney from Ayuda, an agency that provides legal assistance primarily for low-income, Spanish-speaking people.
Gomez claimed that there has been a "constant stream" of problems at the building dating back to 1974. Bernard Jones, supervisor of the housing division of the city's housing and community development agency, said that conditions in the Quarry Road building had been brought to his attention on previous occasions.
While the tenants sought to notify Rangoussis of their plight, Gomez last week contacted Thomas Jones at the housing inspection branch of the city's housing agency. Jones said he talked with Rangoussis who told him that he would take care of the problem. Jones said housing agency inspectors checked the building Friday night to make sure the tenants were receiving heat. They checked again Monday morning.
On Tuesday, Thomas Jones said, he was "surprised" to learn that the heat was off again. After inspectors verified that the tanks were empty, he said, he issued orders for an oil company to fill them. Eldred Curry, of the assessment division of the housing agency, said Rangoussis will be billed for the cost of the fuel.
Rangoussis, contacted by The Washington Post on Friday, declined to discuss the matter. In an earlier phone call, a woman who identified herself as Rangoussis' wife but would not give her name, said she and her husband have more trouble with the tenants then the tenants have with them. Asked to elaborate, she said, "Well, in our buildings, most of them are black or Spanish, so you know how they are."
The building has 18 one-bedroom and efficiency units, which are almost totally occupied by Spanish-speaking persons who have come to this country from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and El Salvador. Gomez said that an average of five persons lives in each of the units and that some residents are undocumented aliens.
Gomez said that Rangoussis has threatened to call the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and report undocumented residents who complain about building conditions. He added that the building was raided twice during the past year. Immigration officials declined to discuss the situation.
When a Post reporter visited the Quarry Road building last week, several of the apartments appeared to be in disrepair. Faulty plumbing kept kitchen sinks from working, shower stalls had moldy walls, ceilings were crumbling and floor boards were warped. Roaches were much in evidence.
One tenant told of her upstairs neighbor falling through the ceiling and landing on her bed. Another tenant told of killing 36 rats in one evening.
Bernard Jones said his records show that there are presently 101 violations of the D.C. housing code at the building. Jones also said that he believed that Rangoussis' license to operate the building had been denied.
However, records at the office of business licenses and permits showed that Rangoussis' license was renewed Dec. 20 and is still valid.
Chester V. McKenzie, chief at the license department, said that his office did not receive a recommendation that Rangoussis' license be denied or revoked.
"We issue in excess of 9,000 apartment house licenses annually," said McKenzie, "and we easily could have slipped up on one or two." He said that he would begin looking into Rangoussis' license "immediately."