The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has "abandoned" five houses that it owns in Cheverly, homes that are slowly deteriorating and posing a danger to public health and safety, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt by Cheverly town officials.

The lawsuit seeks to have a judge order HUD, which purchased the vacant houses after their owners defaulted on their mortgages, to clean up the properties and sell them--which is exactly what HUD was supposed to do with the houses after buying them.

Four of the houses were acquired by HUD since August 1998. HUD has owned the other house since April 1994--although the agency didn't know it until recent weeks, when Cheverly town officials provided it with documents showing the house belonged to HUD.

"It's a comedy of errors," said David W. Warrington, Cheverly's town administrator. "None of these houses are posted for sale."

HUD will "eventually get around to putting them up for sale, but we don't want to wait for three or four years. We're doing this to maintain the quality of the community," he added.

Said Cheverly Vice Mayor Julia Mosley: "If we were dealing with a developer or a private individual, this problem would have been solved. I find it amazing that a public agency can be so unresponsive."

Because the issue is in litigation, HUD officials would not comment, said a spokesman for the agency.

According to the seven-page lawsuit, the houses owned by HUD have broken windows, deteriorating roofing and siding, cracked and peeling paint and overgrown vegetation and are repositories for junk and trash. There is evidence that illegal drug use has occurred at some of the houses, the lawsuit says.

"The accumulation of trash, vegetation and standing waters upon these properties make them breeding grounds for rats and insect infestation," the lawsuit alleges. "The properties are insecure, and this lack of integrity coupled with the hazardous physical condition of the structures . . . make them dangerous to the safety of children."

The house that HUD has owned the longest--since April 1994--is at 6117 Landover Rd.

"It's like living next to a dump," said Fred Quattro, who lives five doors away. "The major problem is that it detracts from the community. It's an eyesore. It takes away from the value of my property and also harms the aesthetic value."

Warrington said the town of Cheverly would be willing to buy HUD's properties, then resell them to developers or individuals who would make renovations.

CAPTION: This house, at 6117 Landover Rd. in Cheverly, is included in the lawsuit.