A failing septic system at an apartment building near Aberdeen, described as a "very serious health risk," has been allowed to go unrepaired for more than two years, despite residents' and neighbors' complaints to the county health department.
"It's the pits," said William Peterson, 50, who shares a three-room, second-floor apartment with his older brother, Thomas.
After three complaints were filed in June and July of 1992, a health department sanitarian discovered sewage flowing onto a driveway near the apartment building and reported the health risk.
The property owner was then ordered to overhaul the septic system, but little was done. The health department never enforced the order.
Two more complaints were filed in August and November of 1994, but haven't been investigated, according to county health department records.
"Yeah, we should have followed through with it," said Fred Faulkner, supervisor of the Harford health department's resource protection section. He said health department staff have other duties in addition to investigating complaints.
The property owner, Adrienne Fitzpatrick, who paid about $165,000 for the apartment building on 3.6 acres on Palomino Ranch Road in 1990, said she cannot afford to install the large holding tank or drainage fields required for a new septic system.
"I've got a bunch of low-income tenants who don't pay their rent most of the time," said Mrs. Fitzpatrick, 35, of Darlington. "I don't plan to do anything with the property, except to keep my head above water" -- and sell it.
"What do you expect for $300 a month in rent? [Tenants] tear up everything -- holes in the walls . . . they scrape the paint off the walls."
Mr. Peterson, who expects to be evicted soon for not paying his rent, said he wants the septic problem fixed for future residents.
"We understand the financial hardship, although that's not an excuse" for not making repairs, Mr. Faulkner said.
The health department's orders consisted of letters written to Mrs. Fitzpatrick and her husband, Thomas, in 1992 and 1993, informing them of the required changes to the septic system.
The septic system options, as outlined in a 1992 letter to Mr. Fitzpatrick, included installing a large holding tank or using an alternative method such as a mound of sand in place of traditional drainage fields. The holding tank would have to be large enough to hold seven days of sewage from seven apartments and would need to be emptied weekly.
"Generally speaking, the enforcement a lot of times depends upon how cooperative the individual is," Mr. Faulkner said.
"In this case, there were indications that she was trying to sell the property."
But no person has even bid on the property at auction, according to Mrs. Fitzpatrick.