The developers renovating the Lee Gardens apartment complex said yesterday they will halt work in buildings that are still occupied, after complaints from Arlington officials who toured the site yesterday.

"There were units full of rubble, plaster in piles -- it was not easy to breathe," said County Board Chairman Albert C. Eisenberg. "The debris is all over the place."

The construction work, though legal, is proceeding "without regard to the tenants. That's not acceptable," Eisenberg added.

County building inspectors toured the complex Wednesday and yesterday, and issued citations ordering immediate correction of safety hazards posed by debris dumped near exits, the lack of guard rails near open trenches, and large amounts of plaster dust, said William L. Hughes, director of the county's Community Planning, Housing and Development department.

Some of the problems already have been corrected and inspectors will tour the complex again today, Hughes said.

Lee Gardens is owned by the Artery Organization of Bethesda, which last month began a renovation of the 961-unit complex. About 3,000 residents, mostly low-income Hispanics, are expected to be displaced.

Work has started on 163 units whose occupants were given until the end of May to leave. Artery also started construction work in another set of buildings, with 149 units, but about half of those units are still occupied, said a company official.

Patricia Rodriguez, vice president of the Lee Gardens tenants association, said residents have been complaining for weeks to managers at the complex about the unsafe conditions. "They told us if we didn't like it, move," she said.

An Artery spokesman said the firm learned of the complaints only yesterday when contacted by Anton S. Gardner, acting county manager.