Montgomery County officials said yesterday that they may drop the tickets charging zoning board member Harry M. Leet with illegal occupancy of two condemned properties that he owns, including the Boyds farmhouse that burned Jan. 11, killing six people.
"This really means that Leet will not have been penalized in any way for having failed to do what he agreed to do to the house (at 22901 Slidell Rd.) before it burned down," said Richard J. Ferrara, director of the Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Development.
However, Ferrara said that the county, while dropping the illegal occupancy ticket at both properties, will press forward with seven other tickets charging Leet with code violations at his other rental property at 23215 Slidell Rd., including failure to make repairs to the siding, foundation wall and windows. The maximum penalty for each ticket is a $250 fine.
Leet, 68, has served since 1981 as a member of the county Board of Appeals, which approves or rejects exceptions to the county zoning laws, and he is seeking reappointment.
He could not be reached last night for comment.
Ferrara said that he doesn't think the code violations were directly connected to the fire, but that the department had believed there was a basis for the illegal occupancy tickets. Those tickets were issued Jan. 13, two days after the fire, Ferrara said, because Leet hadn't made all of the repairs that he had promised last summer in a written agreement with the county.
Ferrara said that Leet had arranged for the water system to be fixed and for smoke detectors to be installed at the burned farmhouse prior to the Dec. 24 condemnation but had not corrected the sagging porch, roof leaks, broken windows or other similar problems.
Yesterday, after meeting with County Attorney Alan M. Wright and reviewing the county code requirements for condemnation, Ferrara said, "Once those problems water and smoke detectors were corrected, the rest of the problems, even though they are code violations, apparently are not sufficient for condemnation."
Therefore, Ferrara said, "The county attorney said that if the code violations don't meet the test required for condemnation, then he recommends that we not prosecute the illegal occupancy tickets."
Ferrara said he will make a final decision next week on whether to drop the illegal occupancy tickets. He will also address at that time the question of whether to lift the condemnation on the property. "I want to make sure we look at this very carefully and make sure there is no other option," he said.
The county originally condemned the two Leet properties in July, department records show. But the condemnations were lifted in August when Leet signed agreements with the county promising to correct the problems by Dec. 1.
On Dec. 7, housing inspector Frank Ziese found that many violations remained uncorrected, the files show. The county condemned the two properties on Christmas Eve and told Leet to remove the tenants by Jan. 3. A week later, the fire killed six of 11 residents, including two children, ages 2 and 12.
Last week Ziese, 58, died in an car accident. Ferrara said that his death would not affect the county's ability to press its case against Leet because the department has Ziese's records.
Fire investigators, trying to establish the cause of the fire, are examining the wood stove installed by tenants to warm the house.