Dr. Laszlo N. Tauber, a local surgeon who is one of the federal government's biggest landlords, made $700,000 in a single year for himself and his partners simply by getting the General Services Administration to change a clause in the agency's leasing agreement on one of his buildings.
Under the terms of the 1967 lease, which GSA has on Dr. Tauber's Parklawn Office Building in Rockville, he as landlord was required to pay for heating, cooling, and cleaning the building from the rental payments he received.
But in 1973, during the height of the energy crisis, Dr. Tauber proposed that GSA foot the bill for utilities and other services in the building which houses more than 6,000 Health, Education, and Welfare Department employes at 5600 Fishers La. in Rockville. In return, he said, he would agree to a reduction in rent.
GSA, which provides government workers with office space and supplies, promptly negotiated a rent reduction that covered only about half the amount Dr. Tauber had been paying for utilities and cleaning services in the building, according to a report from the General Accounting Office, the audit arm of Congress.
Since the terms of GSA leases permit the government to inspect the landlord's books, the utilities and services figure should not have been a secret. Indeed, the GAO said, GSA's maintenance and utilities branch told the agency exactly what Dr. Tauber had been paying for cleaning and utilities and recommended against accepting his proposal.
GSA went ahead with the change anyway at a cost to taxpayers of $700,000 a year, the GAO said. Over the remaining 16 years of the Parklawn lease, that renegotiation will cost taxpayers - and put in Dr. Tauber's pocket - $9 million, the GOA said.
Such attention to the finer points of lease agreements has paid off for Dr. Tauber, an Alexandria surgeon who owns about 10 per cent of the space leased by GSA for government workers in the Washington area.
Dr. Tauber came to this country in 1947 from Sweden, where he had fled to escape Nazi persecution in his native Hungary. Upon his arrival here he had $700. Dr. Tauger is now a multillionaire.
In winning GSA leases, Dr. Tauber follows a standard formula. He invariably obtains an option to buy land for a proposed office building in an industrial or otherwise remote area, where land is relatively cheap.
Land on Buzzards Point, for example, where GSA leases the Buzzard Point building from Dr. Tauber, is valued at one-seventh the price of land around the Securities and Exchange Commission's headquarters on North Capitol Street.
It was the SEC that was originally slated to occupy the Buzzard Point building. The developer who lost to Dr. Tauber by 2 per cent in bidding to provide the SEC with office space had proposed to build in that higher priced area.
As in the case of the Buzzard point building, Dr. Tauber wins GSA leases by offering a lower rental price than his competitors and then providing a building at the lowest possible cost.
Typically, this means that in Tauber buildings the corridors are narrow, the ceilings are low, and the building has little or no landscaping. Also, in the parklawn and other Tauber buildings, employes complain of insufficient ventilation, heating, and cooling, and the outside appearance of the building leaves much to be desired.
At the Parklawn Building, for example, Dr. Tauber said recently he was able to fit an additional 35,000 square feet of rentable floor space into the structure simply by eliminating any indentations or setbacks in the design of outer walls. These artistic touches are employed by architects to modify the massive appearance of such a huge building.
After winning a lease, Dr. Tauber frequently obtains amendments that bring in more income and often save additional sums by failing to provide the level of cleaning, heating, and air conditioning that satisfies workers.
The potential savings in this area are considerable. Before he leased the Buzzard Point building to GSA, for example, Dr. Tauber estimated that utilities and other services would amount to $900,000 of the $2.5 million in annual rental payments he would recetive from GSA.
In its recent report, the GAO found that Dr. Tauber had failed to meet even the minimum cleaning standards specified in his lease at the Parklawn Building before GSA agreed to assume responsibilty for these services in 1973.
Doris V. Frankenfield, the $35.875-a-year GSA official who agreed to the change that cost GSA $700,000 a year, said yesterday she could not recall the matter, although she acknowledged she had made the decision.
Frankenfield, who also signed the paper awarding a lease to Dr. Tauber's Buzzard Point Building, said of the Parklawn decision, "I can't remember this file without looking at the file. I cannot remember every case."
Frankefield, who is deputy director of leasing for GSA's Washington area region, said she also could not recall the GAO report criticizing her decision."
Probably the most serious complaints about services have come from National Institutes of Health employes who occupy Dr. Tauber's Westwood Building in Bethesda.In a recent five-year period, the complaints fill a file 1 1/2 inches thick.
The memos, letters, and pleas cite filthy bathrooms, lack of soap and toilet paper, leaking windows and roofs, lack of ventilation, heat, or cooling, dirty floors, and fire safety violations including jammed fire exit doors and inoperable fire extinguishers.
"In order to go to the bathroom," wrote an aide in the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, "one needs to be equipped with a paper clip (in case there is toilet paper, but it's stuck), a box of Kleenex (in case there isn't any toilet paper), and blinders (so you don't have to look at the filth)."
NIH officials have periodically met with James F. Steele, the $40,995-a-year regional commissioner of public buildings for GSA, as well as other GSA officials in charge of leasing to protest conditions at the building and ask that GSA withhold payments to Tauber until the building is properly maintained. However, GSA has not done so, although NIH has withheld reimbursement to GSA for the rental it pays Tauber.
Steele recently said he could not recall the details of the complaints and said any decision about stopping rental payments would be made by Edward M. Kidwell, who heads leasing for GSA in the Washington area.
Kidwell who makes $39,789 a year at GSA, suggested the complaints stem from an "emotional problem" that afflicts NIH employes who are unhappy about being isolated from the main NIH campus in Bethesda.
He said any building generates complaints. Explaining why GSA recently renewed its lease on the building. Kidwell said the rent was low and no other space was available.