Tenisha Alexander's refrigerator hasn't worked for six months. The ceiling above her bathtub is peeling and moldy. And, after moving from one apartment to another in the same building because of rats, she worries that the vermin will soon infiltrate her current two-bedroom apartment, where she lives with her two small children.
But Alexander is expecting to move soon. A legal battle between Baltimore housing officials and the property owner has been resolved, with a Circuit Court judge favoring the city's efforts to revoke the building's multifamily dwelling license.
About three dozen people, mostly women and children, are expected to be relocated, city officials say.
"We are people," said Alexander, 21. "We have rights. We're scared to sleep in our own house."
City Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano said yesterday that Circuit Judge Evelyn O. Cannon's decision was an "affirmation" of the new "property-based crime solutions program" that city officials are using to tackle problem properties.
"It really sends out a strong message to rental property owners that they better manage properly or they're going to lose their license," Graziano said.
City housing officials first moved against the Pall Mall Apartments - nicknamed "The Ranch" by police - in July, saying that drastic measures were needed to curb crime, drug dealing and unacceptable living conditions at the Northwest Baltimore building. City officials hailed the effort as a new approach to tackle crime and blight in neighborhoods by going after landlords who consistently fail to provide adequate security and living standards.
With help from prosecutors and police, city housing officials compiled crime and housing code violation data to build a case for closing the building.
But the effort was held up in court for months, with out-of-town landlord Allan S. Bird fighting the license revocation. Bird owns several apartment buildings in Baltimore, including the Pall Mall, that receive Section 8 vouchers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In 1997, HUD listed Bird as one of the worst landlords who received subsidies from the agency.
Bird could not be reached for comment yesterday and an attorney who had represented him did not return a phone call.
With the judge's ruling, city housing officials said they are considering condemning the property, since it cannot be used to house tenants in its current condition.
James S. Kelly, Baltimore field office director for HUD, said the federal agency has notified Bird that it will cease doing business with him at five properties he owns in Baltimore, including the Pall Mall, and that tenants can relocate with federal assistance. HUD might take similar action at another two Bird properties, Kelly said.
City housing officials said that, with support from HUD, they have issued housing vouchers to 25 Pall Mall tenants, who can use them to move to other apartments that accept Section 8.
At the Pall Mall Apartments yesterday, the grass outside the building was more than a foot high in many spots. The two main front doors were propped open. And inside one of the entrances, the smell of urine and the buzz of flies greeted visitors and residents.
Alexander and her two young children, a 4-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy, are hoping to move by the end of the month.
"We're just focusing on getting out," she said.