For the past six months, residents of the Parkview Towers apartment building on Maple Avenue have been living in something of a construction zone as the building undergoes extensive renovations.
Residents claim construction workers have come in early in the morning to do work and have left holes in the walls and ceilings and nails and tools on the floor. Leaks and flooding have caused water damage that looked to be growing mold in some units.
Residents also reported feeling disrespected by construction workers and management staff.
“We have been going through hell,” said Susan Hartley, president of the building’s tenant association. “It has been rough.”
Robert Goldman, president of Montgomery Housing Partnership, which owns the building, said that since hearing tenants’ complaints in early November, the organization has been working to rectify the issues residents face. For the next phase of construction residents will be moved out of their apartments, he said.
Mike Nemo, project executive with Hamel Builders, said the company has a long track record of successful tenant-in-place renovations in the area. Company policy dictates proper cleanup following work and for workers to enter apartments with management staff.
Montgomery Housing Partnership, a local organization that provides affordable housing in the area, bought the building in December 2010, knowing it would require a lot of renovations. The organization often buys older buildings to offer affordable housing to those who qualify based on income.
According to residents, rent for one- and two-bedroom apartments in the 11-story building runs, on average, a little more than $1,000 per month.
There are 125 units in the building and the organization is investing $8.87 million in the renovations, financed by a number of local public and private organizations, according to the Montgomery Housing Partnership.
The renovations are being coordinated between Montgomery Housing Partnership, which owns the building; Equity Management, which manages day-to-day needs of the building and residents; and Hamel Building Inc. construction company. The project is expected to be complete in June 2014.
Goldman said that after hearing of residents’ complaints in early November, he held a meeting with tenants on Nov. 12 to discuss their concerns.
Since then, the organization has assigned three tenant liaisons to coordinate between residents and construction workers. Last week, contractors were working on closing all holes with temporary ceilings and walls.
Equity Management did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
Goldman said “it’s a difficult call” whether it was appropriate to do the renovations with the tenants living there. “In hindsight, we can say it became more extensive and complicated than we originally thought,” he said.
“We’re going to change our system and our plan moving forward, so that the residents don’t face this,” Goldman said.
For the next phase of construction, Montgomery Housing Partnership will move residents out of their apartments, two floors at a time. Tenants will be moved into vacant units in the building, and if necessary, nearby hotels, paid for by the organization.
Temporary walls now cover holes that some residents reported had been open or covered by plastic sheeting for months. Pools of water had gathered in plastic in some residents’ ceilings, leaking and developing an orange residue.
A hole remained open from the ground floor to the 11th floor for at least a month, where pipes ran vertically, according to residents.
Taye Esubalew, a resident, was nervous that his 2-year-old son would fall into the hole.
Another resident, Nana Okore, found tools and nails left on his apartment floor, which his 4-year-old daughter picked up. In his bedroom, his and his wife’s bed was pulled away from the wall, a crib hugging its side, to make way for construction around the perimeter of the room. Piles of clothes sat atop furniture because tenants had to move them out of closets for construction.
Dust fell from holes in closet ceilings. Some residents complained that excessive dust was making them sick.
In response to tenants’ reports of tools and materials left in their apartments, Goldman said: “That should never have happened, absolutely. That’s not an overall plan problem. That’s a problem with the contractor and that concerns me.”
Nemo said the company “had procedures in place to come behind and check things,” and clean the apartments. Hartley said that since residents started complaining, she has seen more attention given to cleaning up behind workers. She added that after living in the building for 23 years, she understood how badly the building needed renovations.
“A lot of people are grateful that this is being done, but it’s just how they did it was the problem,” Hartley said.
According to Goldman, work was needed on pipes and the heating system and the boiler needed to be replaced. The next phase of construction will include electrical work and updates to kitchens and bathrooms.
In response to residents’ complaints about early start times for construction, contractors, building management and Montgomery Housing Partnership agreed to move the time when residents would need to vacate their apartments on certain days from 7:50 a.m. to 8:15 a.m.
“We were trying to balance the needs of the residents with the reality of the contractors,” Goldman said.
Takoma Park law requires 48 hours notice before management or workers enter the apartment. Residents received construction schedules for their unit, which workers did not follow in some cases.
Zewede Tefre works at a bar and often returns home late at night to be woken up early in the morning. “I really don’t like to go home,” she said.
Other residents said they have been walked in on while changing or showering in their apartments.
Goldman said that building staff had been told to knock several times, waiting several minutes in between, allowing residents to answer the door if at home before entering.
Makda Semere, a resident who has multiple sclerosis and arthritis, said she has felt harassed by construction workers and management staff who have asked her to leave the apartment, especially after recently returning home from the hospital. She said she has found her clothes thrown in piles on the floor and has spent many nights sleeping on the couch because her bed was moved, and propped up against the living room wall, to make room for renovation work. Semere and her family, like many others, have decided to move.
Such vacancies have left empty apartments that residents will move into during the next phase of construction. Montgomery Housing Partnership is also offering residents credit for half a month’s rent. Some residents have withheld rent in protest of living conditions.
Some residents also claimed that construction workers had keys to their apartments, and that their front doors had been left unlocked and ajar. Nemo said it is company policy for management staff to allow workers into apartments and communicate construction plans to tenants. He said he did not know whether policies had been violated.
Recently, the Takoma Park City Council has become involved, along with city staff. The council was trying to help solve tenants’ concerns and direct them to file formal complaints.
The council became aware of the situation when tenants raised concerns during the Nov. 25 council meeting. Resources on tenant-landlord issues can be found on the city website.
Tenant-in-place renovations were scheduled to wind down this week. Workers were ordered to cease renovations, except for a few cases where they are finishing pipe installations and in response to problems reported by tenants.