Official orders random checks of Savage apartments

In response to serious health and safety concerns at an apartment complex in Savage - brought to light by a state senator and a community activist - Howard County Executive James N. Robey has ordered housing inspectors to perform random, unannounced inspections of the units.

Herman Charity, an assistant to the county executive, said yesterday that Robey also wants to know whether the inspectors notify management at River Island apartments of any problems they discover, and whether they are resolved in a timely manner.


"I will be checking to see if management is acting as quickly as they should be," said Charity, who spoke briefly with tenants Tuesday night at a Savage Community Association meeting devoted to problems at River Island.

Charity said the county had planned to conduct surprise inspections before Tuesday's meeting, which drew about 50 people to Carroll Baldwin Hall.


County officials said they had stepped up inspections at River Island after state Sen. Sandra B. Schrader, a Howard Republican, told Robey about deficiencies at the complex, including the discovery of toxic mold in a unit. Robey appointed Charity to work with county departments to correct the problems at the complex, which has many low-income residents.

"I know that our investigators have followed up on all the complaints brought to their attention," Charity said.

At the meeting, County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, called for an inspection of the entire River Island complex. Charity said that would be done if necessary.

Schrader, who had visited some of the 144 apartments, wrote Robey in November that she found "substandard" living conditions there. In addition to the mold, she said, she saw a kitchen with no cold running water, evidence of rodent infestation and an unlocked utility room filled with broken glass.

Schrader said Tuesday that she has seen some improvement at River Island since November.

"These issues have been brought up for a number of years in bits and pieces, but never in a concerted effort," she said. "You have to thank Robin Smith for that, for taking the bull by the horns, and she's still dragging that bull."

"We are happy to continue to nudge and strongly urge the owners to correct problems," Schrader said.

Smith, a resident of Savage, became familiar with conditions at River Island during the 15 months that her 22-year-old daughter lived there. For most of that time, Smith said, her daughter's apartment had a broken smoke detector and a broken patio door lock, despite repeated requests that management correct them.


During the summer, an environmental testing company that Smith hired found toxic mold in the apartment, and her daughter, whose monthly rent was $760, moved out.

Since August, Smith has pressed the county to address the problems at River Island, but she said that there was little response until Schrader got involved.

Fredric G. Antenberg, a lawyer who represents Sateesh K. Singh, the owner of River Island, said Tuesday night that Singh spent nearly $9,000 to remove the toxic mold from the apartment of Smith's daughter.

Antenberg also urged tenants to take their complaints to apartment management and to call him if the matter is not resolved to their satisfaction.

"I assure you River Island will work with the county and the tenants with regard to any concerns they have," he said.

Stephen H. Adler, general partner of Historic Savage Mill, said at the meeting that he became aware of problems at River Island after the apartment of an employee was destroyed in an electrical fire. He said he has been frustrated by the county's response to his complaints about the complex.


"I've had this conversation with Howard County for six years," Adler said. "I would submit or contend that the behavior of the owner is negligent. "