About 100 people were ordered out of two squalid Temple Hills condominium buildings Tuesday, but a group of defiant residents said they are not leaving because they have nowhere to go.
Fire officials warned the manager, owners and tenants of Lynnhill Condominiums last week about multiple fire-code violations, including towering piles of garbage in trash chutes and trash storage rooms, inoperable fire doors and a broken alarm system.
The seven-story twin-tower complex on Good Hope Avenue has struggled with finances and repairs for more than a decade. Utility companies have periodically shut off water and power over unpaid bills, and the Prince George’s County government has taken the condominium association to court repeatedly over code violations.
“We want to avoid an Oakland or London situation,” said Thomas Himler, a top aide to County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), referring to two recent deadly fires at decrepit buildings in those cities. “This is a life and safety issue.”
While property managers and residents made an effort over the weekend to correct the code violations, Prince George’s County fire department spokesman Mark Brady said, 14 of the 23 issues cited were not fixed by Tuesday morning’s deadline.
Among other things, Brady said, the company failed to produce its annual certification of the fire alarm system, which had been working only intermittently
Condo owners and renters have until noon Wednesday to clear out.
“It was obvious that there was work in progress, but unfortunately they could not get it all done,” Brady said. If the remaining problems are adequately addressed, he added, inspectors will return to see if residents can remain in the building.
For those who depend on the cheap lodging the building offers, the order to evacuate felt like a sucker punch.
“What am I supposed to do? I live here, I have nowhere to go,” one angry resident said, interrupting Fire Chief Benjamin M. Barksdale as he read the evacuation order Tuesday. “Twenty-four hours — what is that going to do for me?”
Dominique Griffin, an unemployed single mother, said she has been living on the second floor of one of Lynnhill’s buildings since March. She communicates with her landlord only by text message, leaving a $500 money order to pay her monthly rent in a drop box at the front of the building.
She said she was unaware of the severity of the complex’s problems until Tuesday’s announcement. But Griffin, 29, also has few other options.
“The landlord was eager, and it was a cheap deal,” she said Tuesday from her apartment, where the two infants she was babysitting were napping on the floor.
Griffin’s voice was raspy. She said she coughs often in the building, where fungus grows uninhibited after water seeps in from rain showers, and black mold creeps up from underneath the laminate.
“This is my home. This is all I have. I don’t have nowhere to go,” Griffin said. “Our landlords and managers failed us.”
Property manager James Braxton and condo owner Stanley Briscoe, who sits on Lynnhill’s board of directors, said the complex — which is looking for an investor willing to buy and repair the building — was not given enough time to address the code violations.
“The county knows our plight,” Briscoe said. “All we ask is a reasonable amount of time to get these services take care of.”
Some residents theorized that the county government is trying to move them out because Lynnhill sits on valuable land near Naylor Road Metro station — a theory that county officials vehemently denied.
The county’s Department of Social Services is working to find short- and long-term housing for displaced residents, although some Lynnhill occupants said Tuesday that they were not getting the help they were seeking from the hotline number they had been told to call.
The agency also worked with Lynnhill residents in October, when utilities were shut off. But since then there has been significant turnover, including new renters and squatters, said DSS Director Gloria Brown Burnett, even though the building has not had valid rental licenses since 2010.
“We are prepared to relocate and figure out housing for as long as it takes, but we need people to work with us on case management,” Burnett said. “We are trying to mitigate the challenges and help residents recognize the urgency to leave.”
County officials said they will locks the doors of the complex Wednesday and control movement in and out of the buildings. Residents and owners can make arrangements to move out large items.