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Apartment building condemned

October 06, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

The city of Hagerstown has condemned an apartment building on an alley off West Church Street, forcing tenants in six units to find new homes.

John Lestitian, the city's chief code compliance officer, said the 12 units at 177-199 Berkson Ave. have problems severe enough to shut down the building.

Lestitian said the roof is leaking and there are signs of what appears to be mold.

Derek Hutzell, 28, a tenant, said his ceiling in his apartment caved in.

The city ordered a section of the building that includes Hutzell's apartment to be torn down, Lestitian said.

Some apartments were inspected Sept. 29 and had to be vacated right away. The rest of the units had to be vacated by Oct. 5.

Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation records say Henry T. Piper Sr. of Williamsport owns the property.

Piper did not return a message left at his home Thursday afternoon. Later, a woman answered the phone and said she'd try to reach him, but he didn't return the call.

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A tenant at the apartment building who wouldn't give her name said Thursday, hours before she had to move out, that she had nowhere to live. She was working on finding a hotel room for herself and her two children.

She said nothing appeared wrong with her apartment, so she didn't understand why she had to move.

Hutzell and Jerry Kinzer, 30, who lived together, said they found a nicer, but more expensive, apartment on Fairground Avenue.

Kinzer said he put up drywall, put in carpet and painted their old apartment. Still, it was in bad shape, he said.

"He didn't want to fix nothing up," Kinzer said of his landlord.

Lestitian said the city spoke to Piper about repairs that he must make.

For one part of the building, he must get a demolition permit within 30 days after Oct. 2 and tear it down within 90 days - or face a fine of as much as $1,000 a day.

For the rest of the building, Piper faces several thousand dollars in fines if he doesn't make repairs, Lestitian said.

The city asked Community Action Council to help displaced tenants.

By Thursday afternoon, CAC had heard from four groups of tenants out of six, said Cindy Shaffer, a community resource specialist for the agency.

CAC paid for three families to stay in a hotel, she said.

The Religious Effort to Assist and Care for the Homeless helped, too, said David Jordan, CAC's executive director.

Shaffer said a family of three who had to leave their apartment immediately Friday found a new place to stay by Monday.

Jordan said he supports the city's code enforcement efforts. However, because the landlord didn't pitch in, CAC had to spend money that would have helped other people, he said.

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