City panel drops mold citations after inquiry by councilwoman

A city panel dismissed citations for mold at a luxury Inner Harbor high-rise this summer after inquiries from a city councilwoman who lives there.

A penthouse resident at the Harborview says Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector contacted city officials out of concern that enforcement action would hurt property values at the 27-story building. Paul C. Clark says leaks and mold have forced his family out of the penthouse they bought last year for $1.15 million.

Spector, who lives at the Harborview with her boyfriend despite representing a district in Northwest Baltimore, says she called city officials about the case, but did not ask them to drop the citations proposed by the Health Department. She said she was concerned that the building's managers would not be represented at meetings about the case.

The Housing Department's director of code enforcement says the citations were deficient and would not have withstood a legal challenge. The administrative judge who dismissed them says Spector did not contact him.

The president of the condominium association, meanwhile, says the mold complaints and the $5 million lawsuits filed by Clark and the owner of the other penthouse at the Harborview are motivated by personal grudges.

John Cochran, the association president, says neither Clark nor James W. Ancel Sr. has allowed workers access to address the leaks and mold. Cochran said Ancel appears to be trying to "raise enough hell" to get the association to buy his $5 million penthouse from him.

"We have a couple of rogue residents down here," Cochran said.

Ancel declined to comment, citing his pending lawsuit. Steven Silverman, an attorney for Clark, said work on the mold initiated by the association was impractical, ineffective, and would not "restore Clark's home into a livable environment."

Ancel and Clark have been complaining about mold at the Harborview since the spring. On two occasions in June, a city health inspector wrote $200 mold citations to the association president for each of the penthouses and another unit.

A lawyer contracted to preside over the city's environmental control board dismissed the first round of citations in July. Ancel and Clark say they were not notified in advance of the hearing.

A hearing on the second round of citations was scheduled for last week, but has been postponed until later this month.

Clark says he approached Spector about the case in August while she was working out in the Harborview gym.

"She said, 'I felt you would adversely affect the property values of not only your unit but the property values of other units in the building,'" Clark said.

Spector says she made no such remark. She said Clark "scared the hell out of me" when he approached her.

"He stopped me in the gym and it was absolutely outrageous," Spector said. "I was on the treadmill and he dangled his keys in front of me and said, 'Do you want to come to my apartment so I can show you the mold?'

"I looked at him like he was some crazy man," she said.

Spector, 74, acknowledges calling housing code enforcement director Jason Hessler and a manager with the environmental control board from the office of the Harborview building manager.

"The manager of the building was very upset," Spector said. She said that she and building manager Gisele Rivera believed — erroneously, it turned out — that the health and housing departments were going to meet with the aggrieved residents without involving the condominium's staff or board.

Although she represents a district in Northwest Baltimore, Spector has long shared a condominium in Harborview with her boyfriend, Oscar Brilliant. She maintains a home in the 7400 block of Park Heights Avenue in her council district.

She declined to tell a reporter what portion of her time she spends at Harborview and said: "Why would you ask such a stupid question?"

"I spend all my work time in my district or in City Hall," said Spector, the council's longest-serving member. She was first elected in 1977.

Spector said that she did not have a financial interest in Brilliant's condominium, which was appraised last year at $360,000. But she confirmed that under a 2007 legal agreement, if Brilliant dies, she is entitled to live in another unit he owns in Harborview — appraised at $270,000 — for the rest of her life. Under the agreement, condo fees and utilities would be paid by Brilliant Associates.

Spector says neither she nor Brilliant sat on the condominium association's board of directors. She says she assisted the building's manager, as she often helps residents and businesses outside of her district.

Sandra Baker, the director of the environmental control board, said Spector spoke with a manager in her office and "said she was calling to see if we had the case."

Baker says Spector did not ask that the citations be dismissed. Attorney Gary M. Brooks, who served as an administrative judge at the board hearing in July, says Spector did not contact him.

Spector and Brooks served on the city's planning board together for several years.

Hessler, the housing code enforcement director, says Spector called him about the citations and explained that Ancel had a personal conflict with the board of directors.

"I remember her talking about a lot of back and forth between the board and Ancel and how it was really an internal fight between them," Hessler said. "I discussed with her who some of the people were [who had mold citations in their units] and she helped identify those people."

Spector says she does not remember that aspect of the conversation. She says she was concerned that the housing and health departments were going to meet with Ancel and Clark without the board or the property manager.

Hessler says he told her it would be a meeting strictly between housing and health. He says Spector never tried to influence him on the citations, or said that she wanted them dismissed to protect property values.

"I said, 'Councilwoman, I don't know where this is going, but we're going to see this through to the end,'" Hessler said.

Hessler, an attorney, said that the citations had several deficiencies and would not stand up to a legal challenge.

Clark, who bought his penthouse for $1.15 million at an auction last year, has filed a $5 million lawsuit against the condominium association. He says the association should have warned him of leaks and mold.

The Maryland Commission on Human Relations dismissed a separate suit filed by Clark and his wife, Rebecca Delorme, claiming that they were victims of discrimination because of "familial status." The condominium association had complained that their 6-year-old son was making too much noise.

Cochran, the association president, says Ancel's dispute with the group began in January, when it refused his request to fire Rivera, the building's manager.

Rivera had allowed an ex-girlfriend of Ancel's back into his condominium to take her things after he had changed the locks. The estranged couple had filed competing peace orders against each other; she arrived accompanied by police.

Cochran says that Ancel was also disturbed that Clark had purchased his penthouse at an auction for less than a quarter of what Ancel had paid. He says both men have denied workers access to their penthouses.

Both the penthouse owners and the condominium association can produce documents from scientific testing companies indicating the proliferation — or scarcity — of mold in the building.

Cochran says the mold in the building is minimal and harmless.

"There's mold everywhere. It's part of life," he said.

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

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