Resident's of a Prince George's County apartment building owned by Shao T. Hsu, the controversial landlord and University of Maryland engineering professor, have been without hot water for most of the last two weeks.
The problem, which affects one of eight buildings at the low-income Town and County Apartments in Seat Pleasant, began when a gas-fueled water heater broke on Jan. 9.
County housing officials said yesterday that Hsu has installed a new water heater but the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission has not allowed it to be turned on because it was an unapproved unit installed by an unlicensed plumber without proper permits.
Michael Boswell, a WSSC official, said yesterday that the replacement heater was put in "very improperly and could have posed a very serious threat" because of possible gas leaks.
Hsu denied yesterday that there was hot water problems at the 133-unit Town and Country complex. "Nothing is going on there; everyone is happy," he said. "The Washington Post is trying to report false statements."
Boswell said that Hsu or one of his employes had turned on the heater several times during the weekend despite a WSSC order against it. Yesterday and gas company supplying Town and Country shut off the gas line feeding the heater to prevent its being turned back on.
"The way it was installed, the heater could've fallen on a gas line," Boswell said, "With gas anything can happen. You could have had an explosion," He also said the heater had been placed too near a wall and had begun to burn the wall.
Town and Country is one of several low-income housing projects owned by Hsu in Prince George's and the District that have been cited for housing code violations.
At Town and Country, housing inspectors found 145 code violations last November, more than one-third of which remain uncorrected, county housing officials said. Last Thursday, the county licensing department suspended Hsu's rental license at his other Prince George's rental property, Emerson Gardens in Hyattsville, after he allegedly failed to correct such problems as roach infestation and holes in walls and ceilings.
Residents at Town and Country said yesterday they were angry about the lack of hot water, and also worried about the new heater's being turned on without their knowledge, as happened three times last weekend.
"Everyone has told us it was dangerous [to have the heater on]," said Linda Sharp. "When we heard someone had turned it on [on Saturday] I was scared. I got up and got my clothes on to prepare to move out."
Veronica Thomas, another tenant, said that she had adjusted to being without hot water by getting up an hour earlier every morning -- at 5:30 a.m. instead of 6:30 a.m. -- to boil water for her bath.
"I fill up my one set of pots with water, heat them pour it all in the bath and then go heat up some more," she said. "It's extremely inconvenient, but my hands are tied."
County housing officials said they have ordered Hsu to install an approved heater properly and provide hot water to all his Town and Country tenants by 1 p.m. today or they will request a warrant for his arrest.