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Tenant sues Lansdowne public housing complex, alleges company failed to fix problems creating ‘subhuman’ living conditions while county ignores complaints

Tenants at Lakeside Homes in Lansdowne have complained for years about conditions at the public housing complex, but Baltimore County Code Enforcement hasn’t responded to reports of possible code violations and public health concerns there for several years, attorneys who have worked with multiple tenants say.

Renters have said their apartments have been plagued by collapsed ceilings, bat and cockroach infestations, sewage flooding from septic tank malfunctions, mold and persistent electrical issues, according to attorneys and tenants.

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For their part, county code enforcers say addressing issues at the privately managed public housing complex is supposed to be handled by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the agency that inspects publicly-funded Section 8 housing developments for safety.

Code enforcers have referred complainants to HUD’s satellite office in Baltimore City since around 2016, county spokesman Sean Naron said.

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Multiple calls to the satellite office went unanswered this month.

A regional HUD public affairs officer, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development and two attorneys say investigating complaints should fall to the county.

Jane Santoni, of the Towson-based law firm Santoni, Vocci and Ortega, is representing Stephanie Hignutt, a Lakeside Homes tenant who is suing Millennia Housing Management, the Cleveland-based property management company, for failing to address “dangerous conditions” in her apartment, the lawsuit alleges.

Renae Davis, a supervising attorney with Maryland Legal Aid, which provides free, limited legal counsel to low-income or marginalized clients, said she’s worked with roughly 30 tenants at Lakeside Homes since 2014 to help put their rent in escrow.

The agencies that are supposed to protect them are not stopping, are not correcting the problem.


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Davis said county code enforcers have referred some of her clients who report unsafe conditions to the state Department of Housing and Community Development, which assists low-income renters, provides loans for public housing developers and distributes federal rent subsidies to low-income families.

Davis said tenants have been told by county code enforcers that the property does not fall within the office’s jurisdiction and that the property is under the authority of the state DHCD.

The state is only required to review the annual certificate of compliance Millennia Housing must submit to prove it is complying with income and rent restrictions, said Owen McEvoy, director of public information for DHCD.

“In most counties, the health department or the inspections [and] permits department or fire department conduct compliance checks based on the safety or health or building code,” he wrote in an emailed response.

The federal housing department conducts annual Real Estate Assessment Center, or REAC, inspections of public housing units to ensure they meet federal health, safety and accessibility standards.

HUD spokeswoman Nika Edwards declined to share inspection reports from Lakeside Homes. But through the nonprofit Public and Affordable Research Housing Corp.’s National Housing Preservation Database, the latest REAC report in 2018 indicated the complex had at least one life-threatening health and safety deficiency and at least one inoperable smoke alarm.

Because the property scored a 71 overall, HUD guidelines stipulate it’s supposed to be inspected every year. The latest 2020 inspection reports do not show a score for Lakeside Homes.

The property had scored a 93 out of 100 in 2015, with non-life threatening health and safety deficiencies noted, according to the report.

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‘Human beings deserve to be treated better’

According to the lawsuit, Millennia Housing has failed to fix several issues in Hignutt’s apartment in the 2900 block of Lakebrook Circle, where she has lived with her 12-year-old son since 2012.

The 303-unit housing complex, formerly known as Circle Terrace, was purchased in 2017 by Millennia Housing.

Contractors sent to repair Hignutt’s HVAC unit, which broke in September 2019, failed to do so until the management company stopped sending contractors altogether, according to the lawsuit.

In the winter months, the company sent a dehumidifier and two heating units that were insufficient, increased her electricity bill and overloaded electrical circuits, with electrical sockets also dangerously sparking, the complaint says.

A spokeswoman for Millennia Housing declined to comment on pending litigation.

According to the company’s website, Lakeside Homes is the only affordable housing complex it manages in the state.

Santoni wrote in the complaint that both Hignutt and her son have required medical treatment for pneumonia and asthma as a result of Millennia Housing ignoring ongoing maintenance issues, including freon leaks from air-conditioning units due to faulty pipes, cracking walls and holes in the walls that have still have not been sealed.

The management company also failed for a year to address a roach infestation that the complaint alleges began in January 2019. Action was not taken by the property managers until January this year, the complaint says — around the time rodents began infesting Hignutt’s apartment due to holes in her apartment that she reported to the company in February, and which were not sealed until early September.

Rodents still appear in her apartment, Hignutt said. A video shared with the Catonsville & Arbutus Times shows an insect-covered wall in her unit, and pictures showed several dead mice.

Hignutt’s son has had multiple upper respiratory infections that have required him to miss school, the complaint says.

Hignutt’s requests to remediate the problems have been either ignored, delayed or repaired ineffectively, according to the lawsuit.

Davis wrote in an email that “the issues that Ms. Hignutt is dealing with is very common at Lakeside Homes at Holiday Heights.”

“They have been living in these conditions for years,” she added. “Some tenants are afraid to talk because they fear retaliation.”

Linaya Branch, one of Davis’ clients, has lived at Lakeside Homes with her now 4-year-old son for almost three years. She was transferred in late February to a different unit after a septic pump failure led to sewage flooding her first apartment in June 2019, she said, causing an estimated $3,000 worth of damage to her belongings.

In July 2020, the ceiling of Linaya Branch's apartment at Lakeside Homes at Holiday Heights in Lansdowne fell on her four-year-old son. Branch moved to the apartment after her first unit at the public housing complex was flooded with sewage due to a septic pump failure.
In July 2020, the ceiling of Linaya Branch's apartment at Lakeside Homes at Holiday Heights in Lansdowne fell on her four-year-old son. Branch moved to the apartment after her first unit at the public housing complex was flooded with sewage due to a septic pump failure. (Courtesy of Linaya Branch / Baltimore Sun)

Five months into living in her new unit, her living room ceiling collapsed on her son, who was unharmed, Branch said. Maintenance had attempted to seal a large crack in the ceiling the week before, she said, but it was still visible.

Branch said she was not reimbursed for the days of hotel costs she spent at Embassy Suites by Hilton Baltimore at BWI Airport while her ceiling was repaired. She was advised she could move into a different unit when she told the property manager she didn’t feel safe in her apartment.

Now the ceiling in her bathroom is leaking into her tub, and calls to request maintenance service since Nov. 28 have gone unanswered, she said.

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“The property is unsteady,” Branch said. “It’s really a mentally draining type of experience.”

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Tenants are being “forced to live like this while people are making money from these properties,” Santoni said, “and while the agencies that are supposed to protect them are not stopping, are not correcting the problem.”

Hignutt is seeking for herself and her son in excess of $75,000 each in damages, plus costs and fees and other relief as justice demands, according to the lawsuit.

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