Residents at a notorious subsidized housing complex in West Baltimore sued their landlord and two private security firms Tuesday, alleging that they were forced to live in filthy conditions and suffered reprisals from guards when they spoke out about problems.
The case was filed in Baltimore Circuit Court on behalf of 32 adults and their children who live at the Madison Park North Apartments, which city officials have said is called "Murder Mall" by its residents.
The city has tried to oust the company that runs the apartments, and tenants say they cannot move to escape the conditions because of how their housing vouchers work. The company has said it made security improvements and has appealed the revocation of its license to the state's top court.
Yolanda Pulley, 40, is the lead plaintiff in the case and the president of the apartment residents association. She had her home raided twice by police based on false tips from private security guards, according to the complaint.
Addressing reporters at her attorney's office, Pulley said she has suffered poor living conditions and acts of retaliation she believes are directed by her landlord, Shelby Kaplan-Sloan.
"It's just crazy how she make us live and we're tired of it," Pulley said.
Other tenants have faced equally bad living conditions, including insect and rodent infestations, doors that don't work and faulty electrical wiring, according to the complaint.
The complex's management "knowingly place woman and children, such as plaintiffs, in residential units which are tantamount to a little shop of horrors," the residents' attorneys wrote in court documents.
The landlord's response to crime has been to hire security firms who keep residents inside their apartments, according to the complaint, making the complex "more akin to a prison that a subsidized housing community."
Kaplan-Sloan could not be reached for comment, and Charles M. Ellenberger the head of one of the security firms named as a defendant said he did not know about the lawsuit and said he had heard no complaints from residents.
Madison Park North stands in the 700 block of W. North Avenue and consists of 202 apartments. Residents pay a portion of their income in rent, and their contributions are topped up by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Unlike some housing voucher programs, the tenants at Madison Park cannot transfer their subsidies to other apartments if they want to move.
Kaplan-Sloan's California-based company, which operates the housing complex, takes in about $2 million a year in payments from the government, according to the lawsuit.
In 2010, the city tried to revoke the company's license to run the apartments. The city's housing and development department held a hearing about Madison Park and police officers testified about rampant crime and drug dealing in the complex.
The city found there was enough evidence to take the license, but the landlord appealed and had carried on running Madison Park. Two lower courts refused to review the city's decision and now the case is scheduled to go before the state's top court next month.
William H. Murphy, Jr., an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said he hopes filing a lawsuit will complement the city's efforts and lead to payouts for his clients.
"What may be necessary is to tear the place down," Murphy added.
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