A quotation in a story in the June 28 Maryland Weekly about the condition of a house rented by Bill Nischan was incorrectly attributed. The quote, which described the dilapidated house, was from Nischan. (Published 7/5/90)

When Bill Nischan first saw the dilapidated house in Seneca Creek State Park along the Potomac in Montgomery County, he knew that it would be a big job to make it homey.

Still Nischan was interested, and in 1986 he struck a deal with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which owned the house. If the commission would pay for the materials, Nischan would provide the labor for the renovations. And when it was done, he thought, he would be allowed to live in the house at a low rent.

"I was desperate for a place to live," he said.

Now Nischan, who owns a sign business, is angry because after he spent 3 1/2 years fixing up the house, the board of the Montgomery County park commission has reappraised his house and voted last week to raise his rent 126 percent, from $530 to $1,200 a month, over the next two years.

In the previous two years, his rent rose 6 percent and 5 percent.

"If I didn't have bad luck, I wouldn't have any luck at all," said Nischan, who also suffered a broken leg last week after tumbling off a ladder.

S.M. "Mick" Turpie, an administrative specialist with the park commission's management office, said, "There's no denying that it's an exceptionally high rent increase. The board phased it in over two years in an attempt to have it not hit so hard . . . .

"I can't say whether or not he was given the impression that {the low rent} would go on forever. I wouldn't think so."

Turpie said park officials are forced to charge marketplace rents on the park properties because of IRS regulations, especially because so many of the houses owned by the commission are rented by park staff.

"The board was satisfied," said property manager Charles McGovern, that Nischan "had gotten a considerable break on the rent in the three years he was there."

Nischan heard about the house in 1986 from a friend, Rusty Wheeler, who works as a plumber for the park. "He said the house had been advertised {for} 10 months, and nobody was interested. They were going to demolish it."

Nischan and Wheeler went to the house to take a look. "It was truly rancid," said Wheeler. "There was urine all over the wall-to-wall carpet. There was dog feces. The structure was a mess and the roof leaked." He thought the house would require a total renovation.

Nischan applied to rent the house in November 1986, moved into it the next January and paid a $475 damage deposit, an amount equivalent to his rent at the time, in March.

A letter to McGovern dated Aug. 26, 1987, outlines improvements he made, including insulation, refinished hardwood floors and painted exterior and trim.

A response from McGovern dated Oct. 13, 1987, thanked Nischan for the progress report. "It appears from your letter that much has been accomplished, and {I} want you to know your efforts are appreciated," wrote McGovern.

Two weeks ago, appraisals were made of a number of park commission properties by officials, and several houses received substantial rent increases. McGovern compiled a four-page review of six cases involving rent increases of $275 or more.

One house renting for $900 was appraised at $1,200. The staff recommended that the rent be raised only $200 because "services provided by the tenant are of value to the Department."

Four of the six houses mentioned had suggested increases more than doubling the previous rents. Three of the increases, including Nischan's, were scheduled over a two-year period.

Before the board voted on the rent increases June 18, each tenant was given three minutes to complain.

"They had a green light, a yellow light and a red light," said Nischan. "I started talking, trying to tell them what I'd done, and all the sudden the red light was on."

Nischan requested a smaller increase and a second appraisal, offering to pay for it himself. He asked to be given credit for his estimated labor cost of $20,000 and $2,000 in out-of-pocket expenses, but that was denied.

The board, however, passed the increase as proposed. "They had no interest in hearing my side of the story," said Nischan.

Nischan has no legal contract for renting the house and said he fears he cannot afford the new rent.

"I don't have the money to pursue this legally. I just wanted some compassion," he said.