Tenants struggle in 'emergency'

The Baltimore Sun

For more than 48 hours, Helen Lawrence, who is a frail 83 and a longtime diabetic, had no running water in her Northwest Baltimore apartment. The worst problem, she said yesterday, was the toilet, which she had not been able to flush.

"That commode is unhealthy," Lawrence said, a trace of her native North Carolina clear in her voice. "I haven't even been able to wash my hands. I just can't go through this. To me, these people don't care whether we have water or not."

Lawrence was referring to the owners and manager of the Oxford House apartment building at 6810 Park Heights Ave., where plumbers had shut off the water early Sunday while they tried to repair leaks in pipes under the five-story building's ground floor.

The manager, Faina Zaft, said she had done everything possible to help tenants, including providing bottles of water to those who asked for them.

"It's an emergency," Zaft said of the plumbing problem. "What can I do? This could happen anywhere. We try to do our best."

Several of the 39-year-old building's mostly elderly occupants - many of whom receive Section 8 vouchers to help pay rent - said the structure is decaying and dirty, and they pointed out wobbly banisters, cracked doorframes and blackened air vents. The lack of water, they said, is the latest complaint.

But Raisa Robinovich, who was at the building yesterday to visit her 87-year-old mother, defended management's efforts. She said management did all it could in an emergency.

In response to a reporter's inquiries, Zaft said she had just spoken with one of the building's owners, who she said told her not to provide his name or hers, and that he had no wish to comment. The owner of record is John Clarke, who bought the 55-apartment building for $3.7 million in August 2005, according to the property's deed, which lists him as managing member of Oxford Apartments LLC.

A spokeswoman for the city's housing authority, Cheron Porter, did not return a call seeking information about the building.

The water problem was the last straw for Donna May Bradley, 52, who uses a wheelchair.

"People have their windows open to let the odor out," she said. Bradley and other tenants wondered why the management had not put portable toilets in the parking lot. She said she had gone to a McDonald's a few blocks away twice Monday evening to use the toilet. Other tenants, she said, are improvising with plastic bags.

In a hallway outside Zaft's office, Bradley and Zaft began shouting at each other yesterday morning as each tried to explain the water situation.

By about noon yesterday, Zaft said, the plumbers got tired of working, turned the water back on and went home. She was unsure whether the work they did would hold, and she said there still appeared to be a leak under the floor outside her ground-floor office.

But with the water flowing, if only temporarily, Lawrence was elated. "I can flush the toilet," she said with a sigh of relief. "Thank you, Jesus."


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