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Complaints plague Harford's Perrywood Garden Apartments

Apartments that flood after heavy rain, leaking raw sewage, a bat infestation, mold, loitering illicit drug users and an unsanitary community swimming pool were among the concerns to be raised this week when members of the Bush River Community Council met with the new management team at the Perrywood Garden Apartments complex southeast of the Aberdeen city limits in Perryman.

Periodically plagued by issues relating to drug dealing and the associated violence, the low-income apartment complex was purchased in March by New Jersey-based Tryco Partners real estate group for about $10 million. At the time, the new owners committed to making major improvements to the 184-unit, eight-building complex.

Though the new ownership has been in place for less than a year, it has been drawing fire at meetings of Harford County's Bush River Community Council, and at a session of the council Monday night at the Anita C. Leight Estuary Center in Abingdon, discussions centered around mold, leaking sewage, drainage and flooding problems and a list of other long-time complaints about Perrywood.

Larry Carmichael, chairman of the community council, said he has been in touch with the apartment complex's new owners, who were largely unaware of specific complaints about Perrywood, though they are poised to make substantial renovations at the community. Carmichael said Tryco told him it had spent $15,000 on renovations and repairs at Perrywood in the months since it purchased the property and is in the process of moving forward with a substantial renovation project that requires approval through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, commonly referred to as HUD.

JoWanda Strickland-Lucas, a community council member who has been in regular contact with several residents of the community, said those residents are very concerned about the health threats posed by the condition of the apartments and common areas. Many, however, are reluctant to complain too vigorously about the problems out of fear they could be turned out of the complex, which has a substantial number of government subsidized tenants who receive the benefit known as Section 8.

The problem, Strickland-Lucas said, relates to the drug dealing and violence periodically associated with Perrywood.

"The perception is people who live there are criminals and that's how they are treated when they complain," Strickland-Lucas said, noting that complaints from criminals aren't taken seriously.

She went on, however, to say most of the people who live in the complex have low-paying jobs and are more irritated by the drug use and dealing that goes on in their neighborhood than anyone else.

"Most of them are working people who get up at 4 or 5 a.m. They work in service," Strickland-Lucas said, characterizing the majority of the residents at Perrywood as low-income working people.

Capt. Christopher Swain, of the Harford County Sheriff's Office, who attended the Bush River Community Council meeting Monday, said people who live in the complex shouldn't feel they can be evicted for complaining about anything from drug dealers to leaking sewage because they're entitled to a hearing before a judge before they can be evicted. Complaining about problems, he pointed out, isn't cause for eviction under the law.

Strickland-Lucas affirmed that while she is aware of the requirement for a court hearing, many residents aren't and they presume they can be evicted at will. Often, she said, people who feel they have been threatened with eviction leave of their own accord fearing they'll return from work to find their possessions out on the street.

Such situations, she said, are not unique to Perrywood.

"The fear is there," she said.

During the meeting, council chairman Carmichael took careful notes, writing down specific locations of allegations of mold, leaking sewage and bat infestations so when he and other members of the council tour the complex with representatives of the new owners, they'll know where to go.

The apartment complex was plagued by a bat infestation last summer and an Elkton firm was contracted to deal with the pests. It appears bats, some species of which are migratory and leave the area during cold weather, showed up at Perrywood again this summer.

Regarding the crime problems that have periodically plagued the Perrywood complex, Swain said the entire Route 40 corridor has been experiencing a period of low crime rates on all major fronts.

This was not the case last year at Perrywood, however, he pointed out. The previous ownership of the complex participated in a program wherein the company pays overtime rates to the sheriff's office and in return, deputies who are looking to work extra hours to make overtime are assigned to patrol the complex exclusively for a special shift.

Those shifts were increased substantially in the last months when the previous owners were in possession of the property at a time when crime was substantially more significant issue in Perrywood. The patrols worked, Swain said, and by the time the new owners were in place, crime was down, but the bills for special police patrols remained high. As a result, the special police patrol program has been suspended, at least for the time being, Swain said.

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