``I just couldn't believe it,'' said Marva Jones, 27, who had lived in a two-bedroom apartment in the building for three years. ``They just came in and told us we had to get out, and we had three hours to do it. It's the middle of winter, and now I need to find a place for me and my three kids to live. It's not fair.''
Candido Colon, 63, had to be called away from his job at a local bakery to come home and remove his belongings.
``I lived there 12 years, I feel bad that I had to leave like that,'' Colon said. ``It had been my home.''
But code officials said the home was unsafe. After inspecting the premises in November, code officials came up with a list of repairs and changes they wanted to see completed and allowed the owners of the building, the 4001 Corp., 60 days to complete them, according to Garry Alston, the city's chief code official.
Alston said the building was unsafe because of structural cracks and rotting, faulty electrical wiring, problems with plumbing and fire-code violations concerning smoke and fire alarms and an unsafe fire escape. The building is one of about 130 shut down by the city in the past year.
``This building had to be closed because the problems had not been addressed,'' Alston said.
Robert Goldstein and Kenneth Marshall, principals in the 4001 Corp., said the abrupt removal of the tenants was simply wrong. Goldstein said the company was informed at the same time the tenants were that they would be forced to leave - on three hours' notice.
``The way they came in there, it looked like a raid,'' Goldstein said. ``I think the whole thing was uncalled for, and I feel the city should have worked with us more to avoid this.''
Goldstein said that when he and his partners bought the building at a government auction about a year ago for $115,000, it was in even worse shape than it is now. Since then, the company has worked to make heating, plumbing and roof repairs and to bring the various fire safety systems up to code by installing a new alarm system and smoke detectors in each apartment, he said.
``We aren't the ones who let the building deteriorate to the state it's in. We realize we need to do a complete overhaul on the structure, but you can't do everything overnight. Work like this takes time,'' said Goldstein, who owns about 15 buildings in Atlantic City and neighboring Ventnor.
Goldstein said he still plans to finish work on the building.
Police officers accompanied Atlantic City code-enforcement officials who went to roust the tenants. Most were home. Others were at work and had to be telephoned and asked to return and collect their belongings.
``I had to take a whole day off from work to deal with this and lose out on my pay,'' said one tenant who identified himself only as ``Roberto.'' ``I want to know who's going to pay for that.''
Under city ordinance, the tenants will be entitled to reimbursement for any money they have to spend because to move, whether for a night or two in a motel until they can find another permanent address or for moving costs, according to Lola Spivey-Wright, the city's relocation officer.