Three tenants of Parkview Towers apartments in Takoma Park were evaculated last week because of flooding in the building's upper floors, two weeks after 39 residents were forced out by water.
"The only difference between this flood and the Fourth of July incident is that nobody's holiday was ruined," said Herman Williams, a Parkview resident and Takoma Park tenants' advocate.
The Parkview Towers residents' continued troubles have led to a city lawsuit against the building's owners. A spokesman for the Montgomery County state's attorney's office said this week that office has begun an investigation of housing code enforcement at the Parkview and in other parts of Takoma Park.
Parkview tenants have had little reason to celebrate holidays at home in the past year.
Last Thanksgiving, tenants of the 125-unit complex had to prepare their turkey dinners in cold apartments because of a faulty boiler, which had been a problem for several years, according to city records.
Less than two months later, many residents spent New Year's Eve moving furniture out of the path of water flowing from a burst water pipe, according to several tenants and Mayor Sam A. Abbott, who was called to the scene during the flooding. The boiler broke down again on New Year's Eve and there was no heat.
On the Fourth of July, county fire marshals and electrical inspectors ordered 39 tenants to evaculate 17 apartments, because heavy rains leaking through the roof had caused another holiday flood. County officials decided that the tenants' safety was threatened.
Water came pouring through light fixtures on the 10th and 11th floors "like a fast-moving stream," according to Williams.
The July 20 flood was just as awesome, Williams said, but only three persons were evacuated from two apartments because "they were the only ones left up there."
After both floods, displaced residents were housed in a Silver Spring motel at the expense of the Parkview Towers owners. Most of those tenants have since been relocated in different apartments in Parkview Towers.
The city has filed a suit against two of the building's owners, Dr. Omar Zaki and Dr. Gershan Oberoi, charging that they failed to correct numerous housing code violations, according to City Administrator Herbert Gilsdorf. The suit is based on city housing inspection reports citing uncorrected violations in 1980 that included the leaking roof, the boiler breakdowns, rats and roach infestations, bad pipes and wall and ceiling damage. The owners have begun repairs and were in the process of fixing the roof when the July 4 flood occurred.
It has been at least six years since the residents of Parkview first complained of wet walls and ceilings. Annual city housing inspection reports dating back to 1975 show that the upper-floor apartments periodically sustained water damage, a serious code violation. Reports of follow-up inspections state that in each case the ceilings and walls were repaired and the problem was corrected.
Residents claim the repairs often did not last and problems recurred.
City officials believe that either worker negligence or vandalism caused the second flood.
Vincent Abell, part owner of the complex with Zaki and Oberoi since early this year, said the vinyl roof he installed after July 4 is sound. He does not know what caused the July 20 flood, he said.
More than 60 Parkview residents, many in a fiery mood, took their complaints to the Takoma Park City Council earlier this month. "Every one of you council members are responsible for the nightmare that happened at Parkview Towers on the fourth," said Naomi Turner, president of the Upper Maple Avenue Tenant's Association. She said the council should have "put more pressure on the building's landloards" to correct defects.
Mayor Abbott, although voicing sympathy for the tenants, said he was powerless to help them because ". . . the city doesn't have the jurisdiction to act in an emergency."
"But I am made," Abbott continued. "We are going to change the law, something the city should have done a long time ago."
What has happened at Parkview Towers is not unusual in the predominantly black Takoma Park neighborhood known as the Maple Avenue Corridor. According to Gilsdorf, several other Maple Avenue apartment houses have been found to have outstanding code violations.
What is unusual about Parkview is that rents there are moderate to high. Parkview residents pay as much as $550 for a three-bedroom apartment.
Both Mayor Abbott and Robert H. Moore, an attorney representing tenants, blamed lax code enforcement on the part of the city for the problems at Parkview.
Abbott said Takoma Park is one of the few Montgomery County jurisdictions that chose not to adopt all of the county's landlord and tenant laws, and did not enact vigorour laws of its own. The city's housing code requires yearly inspections and calls for court action if violations are not corrected, but does not provide for immediate remedies.
The county has limited jurisdiction in the city. If tenants complain of code violations that involve health, fire or electrical hazards the county can act, as it did after the Fourth of July flood.
When asked how the apartments reached their present state, Abell, who said he was speaking for all the building owners, blamed the tenants and the city's rent stabilization ordinance. Zaki and Oberoi could not be reached for comment.
"Because of rent control, Dr. Zaki and Dr. Oberoi could not put the necessary money into the apartments, and besides, the tenants have hurt the building," he said. "And if the tenants did not like the conditions of their units they could have moved. No one tied them down with a ball anc chain. I think the city is overreacting."
In addition to a planned emergency ordinance, which would give the city the right to go in and make emergency repairs and bill the landlords, the city plans to pass a landlord and tenant ordinance to give it control over housing disputes.