When temperatures reached 102 degrees in Will and Lucinda Collier's $419-a-month apartment in Fairfax County's Woodburn Village, it was time to go.
Their newborn son had developed a rash, and then an infection. The doctor's recommendation: cool him off. So after three weeks without air conditioning, the couple packed their bags and headed for a motel in nearby Baileys Crossroads. They spent three days and $127.20 trying to beat the August heat, while their two-bedroom, third-floor apartment remained empty.
"I physically couldn't stand it and neither could my baby," says Lucinda Collier.
"We endured it for awhile," Collier added, "but we just couldn't put up with it any longer."
Along with the residents of four buildings in the northwest section of the Woodburn Village II Apartments, the Colliers have spent most of the summer without air conditioning. Two major breakdowns since June 15 have left many residents of the 410 units in the attractive tree-lined community next to Fairfax Hospital frustrated and angry.
Some escaped in air-conditioned hospitality suites offered by the owners. But without furniture, the suites weren't very comfortable, according to one resident.
"It appears that people are getting the runaround," says Elaine McDermott, a resident of the complex. "Everyone's at the point where they're fed up with it."
The residents aren't the only ones steaming. Fairfax Board Chairman John F. Herrity, who has investigated the tenants' complaints, blames much of the problem on the apartments' owners.
"They haven't handled this as sympathetically, efficiently and as effectively as they could have," he said, adding that he has been misled about repairs to the air conditioning there.
Ron Kirby, representative for the Almist Co., which owns the troubled section of the Woodburn complex, acknowledges that the apartments have been plagued with cooling problems, but insists Almist has moved as rapidly as possible to repair the units. "We are going all out to take care of these people. We are keeping them abreast of the situation as it develops."
As of last Friday, according to Kirby, air-conditioning in all the rental units had been repaired.
The system originally broke in June, Kirby said, as the result of water damage. The motor was rebuilt in four weeks and, Kirby said, promptly "blew out" 45 minutes later. The breakdowns affected all 410 rental units in Section II.
Kirby says the company has spent about $40,000 to compensate tenants for the inconvenience. Swimming pool hours have been extended, two rebate checks ranging from $55 to $75 have been offered, a capital expense check of $25 per unit has been issued and "hospitality suite" accommodations have been offered to residents with infants or health problems.
But some tenants say those concessions aren't enough.
Vesla Adkins, who suffers from high blood pressure, says she was "disgusted" with the hospitality suite she was offered. "They didn't say anything about furniture. The room was completely empty, with air conditioning only ... they would put up a cot for me."
For those without health problems, like Renee Dawson and her roommate, about the only remedy for the heat has been electric fans. The apartments are built so that most units have no cross-ventilation, they said.
Kirby acknowledged that some tenants "were treated improperly." "An errant office worker, apparently ill-advised, was of concern to residents and has since been terminated for other reasons," he said.
Kirby says the company will pay the Colliers' $127 motel bill and help with any accommodations they may need.