The wooden farmhouse where six people perished in a predawn blaze Saturday is one of at least seven condemned or problem-plagued rental properties in the rural sections of upper Montgomery County owned by Harry M. Leet, the director of the county's housing department said yesterday.
Richard J. Ferrara, who heads the Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Development, said that inspectors checked Leet's properties for violations immediately after the weekend fire, the worst in the county in 33 years.
Ferrara, who criticized Leet's record of compliance, said that Leet had corrected problems on his rental properties in cases in which he was forced to do so, but not in others.
"I'm quite distressed," Ferrara said after reviewing the latest reports from his inspectors of the Leet properties.
News reports yesterday that the farmhouse owned by Leet, an appointed member of a county zoning law appeals board, had been condemned by housing officials before the fire spurred a torrent of criticism from members of the County Council. Several challenged County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist to meet with them to discuss the housing policy.
Ferrara disclosed yesterday that the housing department issued eight citations Monday against Leet for violations at one of his properties, an occupied house at 22315 Slidell Rd. The violations include illegal occupancy, broken foundation walls, deteriorated siding and failure to repair windows. Each citation carries a $250 penalty.
Leet, who is retired, said he will contest all of the citations, because "none of them concern health and safety." He said that housing inspectors were "jumping to conclusions" to say that there are problems at his other occupied properties.
"I don't know of any code violations," Leet said.
Leet serves on the County Board of Appeals, which approves or rejects exceptions to the county zoning laws.
The eight citations were written at the same time that the housing department issued one citation against Leet for a code violation at the wooden farmhouse at 22901 Slidell Rd. where the six people died.
"I didn't think it made sense to write more than one ticket on the house that burned," Ferrara said.
Housing records show a string of code violations dating to 1981 at the burned farmhouse, including the lack of a heating system. To warm the house, tenants installed a wood-burning stove, which fire officials now are examining to determine if it played a part in the fire.
County Council member Rose Crenca criticized the housing department for being too late. People should not be pushed out of housing because of cosmetic problems with the property, Crenca said, but "it was not kind to let those people stay there in the farmhouse that burned after violations were found."
Scott Fosler, another member of the council, said he was "terribly distressed" that there were so many code violations at the farmhouse.
Gilchrist said he had talked to Ferrara and concluded that the housing department had acted in a "competent way . . . it was a case known to the staff and was being dealt with in a professional manner . . . the decisions were appropriate."
Ferrara said his department had done the best it could in trying to enforce the county housing code. "With limited staff, we have a complaint-generated inspection program," he said. " . . . It is a time consuming and difficult process and everyone has rights -- the landlord and the tenants."
Leet's condemned properties, Ferrara said, include two houses on Slidell Road and an apparently unoccupied house at 15001 W. Old Baltimore Rd., officials said. They said that their records also showed Leet as the owner of a condemned mobile home on Club Hollow Road, but Leet denied that he has ever owned that property.
The Leet rental properties with problems, housing officials said, are at 20525 Whites Ferry Rd. and on Hoyles Mill Road at 14615, 14619 and 14701. Two other Leet rental properties appear to be in acceptable condition, according to Ferrara.