Residents Sue Public Housing Authority Over Inhumane Conditions

The residents of Lakeside Homes in Lansdowne, which is a public housing community in Catonsville in Baltimore County, have sued the county over its lack of response to the substandard conditions in their apartments. The housing complex has had problems for years, and the residents are finally fed up with their living conditions.

What the Tenants Have to Say

The tenants at Lakeside Homes have been complaining to the Baltimore County Code Enforcement about living conditions in the complex for years. They say they've had no response to their reports of code violations and public health concerns. The tenants are at their wits' end and have now contracted with two law firms to file a lawsuit for substandard and inhumane living conditions. Several tenants have joined together in filing the lawsuit.

What the Tenants Have Experienced

Over the past few years, residents of Lakeside have reported a wide range of serious issues in their apartments. These issues include collapsed ceilings, structural deficiencies, sewage backups, electrical problems, mold and bat and cockroach infestations. The code enforcement officers say that the Lakeside housing complex is privately managed. They added that problems in the complex are supposed to be handled by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is the agency that performs safety inspections of public housing developments. The Baltimore County code enforcement officers have referred residents' complaints to the Housing and Urban Development satellite office in Baltimore. According to Baltimore County spokesman Sean Naron, their department has been doing this since the first resident complaints were received in 2016.

Calls to Housing and Urban Development Go Unanswered

Calls from attorneys of the residents have not been answered by the Housing and Urban Development satellite office in Baltimore. A regional Housing and Urban Development spokesperson with the state of Maryland said that complaints should go to the county. In other words, residents are getting the runaround. The agencies are passing the blame, and nobody is taking responsibility for the living conditions of the tenants.

Attorneys Describe the Living Conditions

Attorneys for the tenants explain that the living conditions in the public housing complex are sub-human. Jane Santoni, of the Towson law firm Santoni, Vocci and Ortega, represents the clients. She said that her clients are not living like human beings and that human beings deserve to be treated better than this. Santoni is representing tenant Stephanie Hignutt. She is suing Millennia Housing Management. The management company is based in Cleveland. Her lawsuit alleges that the property management firm has failed to address dangerous living conditions in her apartment. Another attorney, Renae Davis, represents 30 tenants at Lakeside Homes. She has helped her clients put their rent in escrow in accordance with the law. She offers free, limited legal services to low-income clients living in Maryland.

What the Attorneys Have to Say

Both attorneys say that the agencies charged with protecting their clients are not stopping the problems or forcing the property management agency to correct them. Davis added that the county code enforcement officers referred people to the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. She added that her tenants report being told by the county code enforcement that the housing complex isn't in the county's jurisdiction. The state says it's not their responsibility; it's the county's.

What Maryland Law Says

Maryland law says that the state only has to review the annual certificate of compliance for the property management company. This certificate requires the property management firm to prove its compliance with income and rent restrictions. Maryland state officials add that in most counties, the health department or code enforcement authorities do inspections along with the fire department. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development is responsible for inspections of public housing to ensure compliance with federal health, safety and accessibility guidelines.

What the Federal Spokespeople Had to Say

Housing and Urban Development spokeswoman Nika Edwards declined to share inspection reports for the complex. Through an open records request, journalists found a database that included one listing for a life-threatening health or safety deficiency in the complex in 2018. The 2018 report also listed at least one inoperable smoke detector. The property scored 71 out of 100. Housing and Urban Development guidelines require a property with that score to have an annual inspection. There was no inspection done in 2020.

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