The first thing Eric Coleman wanted to show D.C. council member Jerry Moore and a group of housing inspectors yesterday were the holes in the walls.
"Mice come right up through the floor and the walls. You hear them all night scratching and crawling around," said Coleman, an unemployed maintenance worker who lives with his wife and three children in a two-bedroom apartment in the Lurgan, a building at 919 L St. NW.
Other features of the tour of Coleman's apartment were leaking pipes, crumbling plaster and warped walls where he said paint had been peeling for several months.
Coleman's apartment was one stop along a tour of four Northwest apartment buildings arranged to give Moore, council member Frank Smith (D-Ward 1) and a half-dozen housing inspectors and supervisors a first-hand look at housing conditions covered by legislation now pending before the council.
In addition to the Lurgan, the tour included buildings at 1229 12th St. NW, 1425 T St. NW and 1458 Columbia Rd. NW. All have monthly rents ranging from about $150 to $400 and at each the group saw conditions similar to those at Coleman's apartment.
Isidor Weinbaum, a retired dental supplier and owner of the Lurgan, said in a telephone interview yesterday that "We are doing all we can, making repairs all the time. I've lost money on that investment for 15 years."
Owners of the other buildings on the tour were not available for comment yesterday.
"I think it's pitiful when we come to the point in our community that we permit landlords to keep properties in the conditions that I've seen today," Moore said after the tour, coordinated by Project Washington Innercity Self Help, a housing advocacy group.
"I've seen broken mailboxes that have remained that way years, and broken elevators that force people to walk as many as six floors to their homes," Moore said. "I've seen leaking roofs that have led to rotting floors and walls and I've seen where pigeons have moved into an apartment and caused health problems."
Among the bills pending before the council are three that would make it illegal for apartment buildings to have inoperable mailboxes, front door locks and elevators and two that would permit tenants to use rent money to make repairs of housing code violations. Legislation extending the condominium conversion act that gives tenants power to block a conversion and buy a building also faces final council action.
Moore said that until the council acts on these bills, conditions such as broken locks on windows and doors, which are housing violations now, should be corrected.
A top official of the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs said the same types of conditions seen yesterday can be found at hundreds of buildings in the city.
"There are 350 apartment buildings on the bad building list in D.C. Each building has an average of 14 tenants," said Thomas Butler, program manager of the DCRA Housing Inspection Division. "It's unfortunate but we don't have a regulation governing mailboxes, security locks on front doors, nor elevators. I have no regulatory powers to enforce concerning these problems." Butler said the landlord at the Lurgan would be ordered to fix a faulty door lock and a running faucet.
Roberta Nicholson, who lives at 1229 12th St. NW, said that she and other tenants there are fed up with living in substandard housing. "We've had a rent strike going on here for more than a year now because we need ceilings fixed, and plumbing and painting work done."
Lotlyn Hall, a teacher in the District who has lived at 1425 T St. NW for 12 years, led the city officials through that building and afterward said, "We've been complaining to the landlord for a long time. If these council members and housing people don't do anything now, we can at least say we tried."