The palm-sized gray mouse with a pink belly scampers across the top of Chester Ramsey's old white stove, pausing to sniff the contents of a pot before disappearing behind the kitchen sink.
Rodents are a common sight in the tiny, one-bedroom apartment on Orange Street in Southeast Washington that Ramsey shares with his brother. He believes they enter from the one-inch gap in his front door that the landlord has not repaired.
"I do the cooking here, and that's when I see them," said Ramsey, a soft-spoken, small-framed man who moved into the unit two weeks ago.
Across the hall, Chamika Jones worries that the paint peeling from her kitchen and bathroom ceilings for nearly two years will end up in the mouth of her 3-year-old son, Ricardo. Or that the water leaking through the ceiling and into the kitchen light socket could start a fire or electrocute someone.
"The landlord promised to fix things, but he hasn't," said Jones, who also has a 2-month-old daughter. "The only time I see him is when he comes to pick up the rent."
The landlord is Eugene Kinlow, a member of the D.C. financial control board who oversees several agencies, including public health. He was appointed to the control board by President Clinton and is also a former member of the D.C. Board of Education.
Kinlow and his wife, Nannie, own five apartment buildings in the District--three in Southeast, one in Northeast and another in Northwest, property records show. Most tenants pay at least $364 a month.
Several of the apartments are overrun with mice, water bugs and roaches. Holes as big as fists can be found in bathrooms, allowing easy access for rodents. There are cracked and broken windows, windows that don't open and leaky ceilings. At one apartment unit on Malcolm X Avenue in Southeast, wires dangle from an outdoor box with no cover.
"He's a slumlord," said Renita Dyson, who pays $415 for a one-bedroom apartment owned by the Kinlows at 1628 E St. NE. "The plumbing is no good, the floor is separated from the tub and there are no pipes in one of the sinks. He wants his money, but he doesn't want to fix the buildings."
"Why don't they call me if they need something done?" Kinlow asked. "No one's called me. Most of the tenants are my friends. They're like my extended family."
Michelle Jones, who lives with her husband and three small children in a one-bedroom basement apartment on Orange Street, said she repeatedly has asked Kinlow to patch a gaping hole that is an entrance for mice and to repair the ceiling that "leaks like it's raining" when the bathtub in an upstairs apartment overflows.
"We've asked him to fix the ceiling and fix the hole in the bathroom, and nobody ever came," Michelle Jones said. "That hole has been here since we moved here five years ago."
Kinlow said he was not aware of the hole and plans to patch it.
Chamika Jones, 20, said she asked Kinlow to fix a leaky ceiling in the living room and withheld rent for four or five months last year until he did. She said she continues to have problems with mice and has asked Kinlow repeatedly to exterminate them. She also has complained to local housing officials.
"I informed him of the mice and was told the exterminator was to come out twice a month," Chamika Jones said. "But they haven't been here in about three months."
Kinlow said he doesn't understand Jones's complaint about mice, which are "all over town. . . . I even have mice occasionally at my house." He said he has sent exterminators to the apartment buildings.
Kinlow and his wife have been landlords since 1969 when they purchased a six-unit apartment building at 1300 Belmont St. NW, records show. They bought the Orange Street building and units at 242 and 246 Malcolm X Ave. SE in 1975. The E Street building was purchased in 1986. All but one, the E Street structure, are paid for, he said.
"I don't make money off of them," he said. "But it's important not to board them up. It provides for people who can't afford any better. My kids lived in those apartments when they moved away from home," Kinlow said, adding that his children lived in the units rent-free.
Kinlow has been cited for housing code violations at least seven times, including four times between July 14, 1998, and June 5 for plumbing problems and leaky ceilings at an apartment at 246 Malcolm X Ave. SE, according to computer records at the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.
Two complaints were filed against Kinlow for violations at his E Street building, the records showed. He also was cited for routine violations last year at the Orange Street building. Routine violations range from poor plumbing to leaky ceilings.
When asked for copies of the citations, the department's housing administrator Jim Aldridge said they didn't exist on paper or on the computer. But Kinlow acknowledged that he had been cited and has made the necessary repairs.
"Yes, I've been cited," he said. "I admit it."
Department spokeswoman Jacqueline Wallace said she couldn't explain the discrepancy.
Kinlow has sued tenants at least five times for failure to pay rent, according to court records. In at least one case, a tenant living at 246 Malcolm X Ave. SE, withheld three months' rent, $1,062, until Kinlow agreed to repair the refrigerator, replace the tile in the kitchen and bath, put a cover on the fuse box and fix the water pressure in the bathroom, court records show.
Kinlow said the tenants should be grateful for a roof, albeit leaky, over their heads.
"If I was paying three hundred and something a month for an apartment, I wouldn't expect it to be perfect," he said. "They know they're getting a deal, and they know what the deal is."