Monica Yant Kinney: Landlord of Philadelphia-area buildings in hot water over code violations

A resident of the Marquis Apartments, Anjan Veeramalla, in front of the King of Prussia complex. Advertised as a luxury property, it has twice come to the brink of being declared uninhabitable.
A resident of the Marquis Apartments, Anjan Veeramalla, in front of the King of Prussia complex. Advertised as a luxury property, it has twice come to the brink of being declared uninhabitable. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 04, 2012

In 2010, after I wrote about sewage, rodents, and frigid showers compromising "luxury" living at the Marquis apartments in King of Prussia, the complex's Boston owner sent a scathing letter to my editors urging them to silence me and insisting "good news should have found its way into her column."

A week later, many of the 1,200 residents at the hilltop complex shivered through the coldest day of the winter without heat, taking no comfort in the "million-dollar fitness center" with busted equipment. Exasperated Upper Merion Township officials told tenants to join forces and hire lawyers.

By then, I'd heard from kindred spirits at the Colonade, an aging sister property in Jenkintown where two-thirds of the elevators in one building were broken.

A year later, pledging to keep an open mind, I returned to the Marquis - cruising through an unmanned security shack.

Given the games being played by a landlord averse to upkeep, I'm hardly surprised that this 2012 iteration finds local officials infuriated over Metropolitan Properties of America's (MPA) cheapness and disregard for tenant safety.

No one from MPA would answer my questions, though a spokesman e-mailed a statement touting a "collaborative partnership" with Abington Township officials.

"Everything is a lie with these people," gripes Larry Matteo, Abington's director of planning and code enforcement, who recently slapped the Colonade with a record 190 code violations, many for fire-safety infractions.

"Our solicitor is looking into criminal charges," Matteo says solemnly. "We've asked the district attorney to look into the situation."

A community in peril

More than 2,000 people - as many as the residents of some small suburbs - live in these two "luxury" complexes. They are workers, students, and retirees, foreign professionals unfamiliar with tenant rights and lifelong renters threatened with eviction for exercising theirs.

"I'm the town crier," boasts Laverne Tanner, who pays $1,800 a month for a three-bedroom unit at the Colonade. Her grandmother worked in the building as a nanny when it was called the Benson and renowned for its grandeur. Now?

"We haven't had hot water for about 13 days," Tanner tells me during my visit Tuesday. "I'm taking money out of my rent. If they harass me one more time, I'm filing a civil suit."

Tanner has company in Marshall Jones, a 91-year-old World War II veteran who hobbles to greet me after the remote entry system fails.

He could have saved his energy.

"Out of eight doors, you can probably just walk in six or seven," Jones says, pointing out empty apartments along his hallway. "That was where a maintenance man lived. They fired him."

Jones spends his days recording water temperature, which rarely registers hot enough to take a proper shower. It could be worse, I tell him: Marquis residents awoke Christmas to a broken water pump that left their faucets dry.

Property managers set up portable toilets outside, but irate Upper Merion officials declared the buildings "unfit for habitation" and hauled MPA to court.

"They're trying to catch up with the complaints," notes Upper Merion property maintenance officer Bob Rudzinski. "It's just that they have a long way to go."

Bad faith on the home front

Back in Abington, tensions escalated after a District Judge threatened to fine MPA $1,000 per day per violation and Township Commissioner Madeleine Dean witnessed an MPA executive renege on a lease renewal for Marlene Sellers, a 36-year renter targeted for trying to organize fellow tenants.

Dean, a lawyer who teaches writing at La Salle University, calls MPA's actions "shameful."

The double-talking corporate VP, who pledged to personally oversee fixes at the Colonade, is suddenly no longer with the company. A spokesman now claims those hit with non-renewals can stay.

MPA, he assures, is "working hard . . . to ensure a quality experience for our residents."

The company has weeks to remedy the final 24 violations to avoid those steep fines. A mountain of bad faith remains.


Contact Monica Yant Kinney at 215-854-4670 or myant@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @myantkinney. Read her blog at philly.com/blinq.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|