TEMPLE HILLS, Md. - As temperatures continue to drop, hundreds of Temple Hills residents remain in the cold after a condo association failed to pay more than $1 million in utility bills. Because of this, power and gas have been shut off and are forcing these tenants to find other places to live.
In all, 77 families and more than 300 people in all are being forced to leave as the building was declared inhabitable. Prince George’s County Fire Chief Marc Bashoor said the Lynnhill Condominiums has been placed under a fire watch. Bashoor said that emergency crews will conduct regular inspections of the premises until power is restored. On Wednesday night, firefighters headed inside because of a strong smell of gas and a possible gas leak. Eventually, an all-clear was given.
Many residents remained in their homes at the complex overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday despite being told by authorities to vacate. Bashoor said that he is aware of the order to leave, but says his crews will be on the safe side.
"We’re going to make sure, that as long as people are here, we're doing everything we can to keep them safe and make sure we're continuing that fire watch to make sure that if something happens, we're on top of it," he said.
A letter of intent was given to tenants on Monday saying that service would be terminated Tuesday due to a lack of payment. At around 1 p.m. on Tuesday, the power was officially turned off.
“It is sad because there are a lot of families with young kids live in this building, and I know everybody is not going to have the resources to just get up and move,” said Lynnhill resident Macobi Washington.
Her family, which includes her 3-year-old and 8-month-old granddaughters, is one of many that have no place to go.
“Who can just get up and move tomorrow and already have something planned?” said a frustrated Washington. “It’s only been two days when we found out that the electric was off.”
Agencies such as the American Red Cross and churches are helping with temporary shelters. Prince George’s County’s Department of Social Services is also trying to help with short and long-term plans for the residents. The community has been trying to step up as well with food and clothing donations and free services from moving companies. (Click here to learn more on how to donate to these residents)
“We have a number of landlords on property who are taking immediate applications, running quick assessments and flipping units for folks to move into,” said Renee Ensor-Pope, the assistant director for the department.
However, many residents we spoke with said a new apartment is not a realistic option as the rent they paid at Lynnhill was affordable for them.
“The apartment complex is going to be much more and we can't afford it – even if they pay the first month's rent and security deposit,” said Washington.
David Gilmore, president of the New Condominium Association, told FOX 5 on Tuesday that they came up with a new development plan but Pepco would not work with them. Gilmore says they couldn’t negotiate a payment with Pepco because the company wanted a large down payment of about 20 to 25 percent.
Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker also showed up Wednesday evening to answer questions for residents. He acknowledged the problems at the complex have been going on for years, but he said the county cannot force Pepco to turn the power back at the building and only a judge can issue an order to temporarily turn the utilities back on.
“We said to [the condo association] – because we knew there were issues – you need to deal with this, you need to negotiate with Pepco, the water company, to make electricity stays and make sure it is habitable,” said Baker. “Because if it isn’t, then we have to come in and shut you down. Once again, this is a private entity here, so we can’t force them to do anything unless it violates our health codes.”
One resident said he contacted the county two weeks ago trying to raise the red flag because he learned the condos were in trouble with the utility companies.
Sen. Muse is planning to work with the state’s attorney general to ask a court Thursday morning to order the utilities back on for a 60-day period. He plans to request taxpayer money to be used as a down payment toward paying back the debt.
“Our major priority is to make sure the utilities are back on here, that the residents can move back in here and then it is incumbent upon us to sit down and work out the process,” Muse said. “I think as a state, we can do that.”