The letter that the tenants at 2422 Ontario Rd. NW received early last summer seemed simple. They had a new landlord, it said, and he planned to make some repairs to the deteriorating building. The repairs were expected to be finished by the end of July.
Six months later, the tenants are living in a building where many walls have been removed but not replaced. Bathroom repairs have been started but not finished, leaving holes in the floor that enable tenants to peek into the bathrooms of apartments below. In one apartment, a bathtub has been removed and sits on its side in the living room.
And the tenants of the 15-unit building, angry at the incomplete repairwork and fearful that the landlord wants to force them out, have gone on a rent strike.
The owner, William H. Ellis, said that when he bought the square brown brick building he thought he would need to spend about $15,000 to make repairs and bring the low-rent building up to housing code standards.
Ellis said he now has spent more than $50,000 to do such things as improve the plumbing and electrical systems, and needs to borrow an additional $60,000 to $80,000 to finish the rehabilitation.
"The money is gone," said Ellis, a program analyst for the federal administration on aging. "I found out the building was in much worse shape than I thought." Ellis said he finds himself "digging something of a deep hole."
Wheelbarrows full of materials sit unused in the building's corridor, where a chill wind enters. Debris is everywhere. Exposed ceiling beams cause "stuff to fall into your food while you're cooking," said Paul Snow, a tenant.
Some tenants said no hot water comes out of the faucets in their kitchen sinks and bathtubs.
"Phshew, this place is tragic," said Della Woodley, a tenant and former resident manager. She has shoved two glass bottles into a hole at the bottom of one of the walls in her basement apartment to keep out the cold and the rats.
"I can't take a bath at night because the temperature drops in the room," said Yvonne Wheeler, a tenant there for four years.
Tenants contend that the building was in better shape before Ellis took over, and that he is trying to force them to move by not providing services or finishing the repairs.
Ellis said, however, that although he does hope to raise the rents considerably on the apartments once the rehabilitation is finished, "I am not trying to force them to move."
He said the improvements he slowly is making have made the building a better place to live. He has inquired about getting rent subsidies for the apartments, he said, so the tenants would not be hurt by any increase.
Meanwhile, he said, he is trying to borrow money from two local lending institutions so he can complete the work.
His relationship with his new tenants has worsened, he acknowledges. "We were like a little family at one point," Ellis said. "A lot of people up there want to beat me up now."