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Neighborhoodsby Laura Fay11:25 amJul 6, 20230

Years of unanswered complaints will catch up to Ruscombe Gardens, residents predict

Uncollected trash and moldy cabinets are among the alleged chronic problems at this northwest Baltimore apartment complex for low-income elderly and disabled people, owned by a company based in Portland, Maine

Above: Ruscombe Gardens Apartments residents Deborah Travers, Karen Evans and Curtis Brown with broken bench that has not been fixed for almost a year. (Laura Fay)

When Crystal Hopkins moved into her new place at the Ruscombe Gardens Apartments in early June, she immediately had second thoughts.

From water-damaged cabinets, to doors with broken springs, to a shower that sprayed water in the wrong direction – new problems were everywhere she looked.

But complaints about the problems, like the moldy cabinets, always seemed to go nowhere.

“I went down there, and I gave them the paper, and I let them know that their cabinets are terrible,” Hopkins said. “It’s nasty in there. I can’t put my food or nothing in there.”

In the weeks since she filed her complaint, nothing has been done. Fed up with the lack of action and disgusted by the living conditions, Hopkins is now making plans to move out of the complex just a month after arriving.

“It’s not good to be living in there. I shouldn’t be living in there. If I get sick, I’m gonna sue them.”

She’s not alone.

Residents say the problems at Ruscombe Gardens, a federally subsidized 150-unit complex providing low-income housing to elderly and disabled people, stretch far beyond Hopkins’ front door.

Ruscombe Gardens Apartments tenants Karen Evans and Deborah Travers say management lapses result in dangerous and unhealthy conditions at their northwest Baltimore apartment complex. (Laura Fay)

Ruscombe Gardens tenants Karen Evans and Deborah Travers say management lapses result in dangerous and unhealthy living conditions. (Laura Fay)

Tenants describe complaints about maintenance issues that have been left uncorrected for years, some posing risks to their health and well-being.

“Things get done, but they get half done,” said Karen Evans, a 12-year building resident.

Health and safety violations get swept under the rug, she said.

“The big elevator was down for two years. Totally down, for two years. If you got a wheelchair or can’t do steps, you’re just stuck.”

“Things get done, but they get half done”  – Resident Karen Evans.

Many tenants have underlying health conditions, and emergency personnel go in and out often, said Curtis Brown, another Ruscombe Gardens resident.

“Fire department came in here trying to take people to the hospital, and they can’t get them out of the building,” Brown said.

Residents allege that the company’s cost-cutting measures directly impact their daily lives. The trash chutes on each floor have been out of order for years, forcing residents to carry garbage bags on the elevators, and when the elevators are broken, down the stairs. The smell permeates the building.

“Sometimes the trash room be so full of trash you have to kick bags around the corner to get to your apartment,” Patricia Walker, another long-term resident, said.

Walker also faults the buildings’ cleaning crew. While cleaners go through the complex three times a week, Walker says they never do a thorough job. In fact, she alleges, they often skip floors on their rounds, leaving parts of the building in squalor.

“I even deliberately put something on the fifth floor as a mark just to see whether they was gonna come up,” Walker said. “It took them four weeks.”

“No complaints for some time”

Seeking a response to the allegations, The Brew turned to the property owner, Chateau Foghorn Limited Partnership, and its management company, Preservation Management, both located at the same street address in South Portland Maine.

Preservation Management operates subsidized housing in 17 states, including Ruscombe Gardens Apartments, in the 4800 block of Yellowwood Avenue, along with three other apartment towers in Baltimore.

“I have not seen any complaints come from Ruscombe Gardens for some time,” wrote Michele Folino, senior vice president of operations at Preservation Management, in an email.

“We did have an issue with the elevator that took longer than it should because there were parts that needed to be fabricated,” Folino acknowledged.

The Ruscombe Gardens apartment complex in Baltimore, owned and managed by a company based in Portland, Maine. (Laura Fay.)

ABOVE: Ruscombe Gardens, located near Cylburn Park in northwest Baltimore, is owned and managed by a company in Portland, Maine.  BELOW: Crystal Hopkins’ water-damaged kitchen cabinet. (Laura Fay.)

ruscombe cabinet

In response to complaints of flooding and water damage, she suggested that residents often bear responsibility for the problems.

“We manage quite a few mid-rise senior buildings and often have issues with residents overflowing tubs or toilets as well as sprinklers going off because residents forgot they left something on the stove,” Folino observed.

“If you have received a complaint, please provide details, and I am happy to address,” she added.

Online records indicate that the property earned passing grades from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

It received a HUD Inspection Score of 97b during its last evaluation in 2019, albeit with the “b” designation meaning that one or more “non-life-threatening health and safety deficiencies” were observed.

There were no open service requests listed for the property on the city CoDe map. According to the Baltimore Department of Housing and Community Development, there have been three notices issued to Ruscombe Gardens since the beginning of 2019, all of which have since been abated.

Unkept Promises

Still, with a litany of issues plaguing their daily lives, many residents feel the company is not doing its job adequately.

Painting and repairs are done ahead of government inspections, but otherwise problems are left to fester, such as the chronic flooding in ground-floor apartments. One resident, William Peacock, said his unit has flooded four times in the past two years.

What happened when he reported the water damage? “They just dried my carpet. That was it.”

Residents also worry about the large trees in the front courtyard, many of which they believe are dangerously close to the building.

“A tree’s gonna fall and knock your brains out”  – Resident Curtis Brown.

Pink ribbons are tied around several of the trees, evidence that surveyors had marked them for removal. But like so many other things, follow-through was absent.

“Every time there’s heavy winds, heavy rains, something’s coming off the trees. And if somebody’s over there, somebody’s going to get hurt,” Evans said.

They had a close call last year, when a storm sent a tree branch straight through a park bench. The battered bench, still unreplaced almost a year later, sits wrapped in yellow caution tape in the front yard.

“You’re gonna be sitting out there at the end of the day, and a tree’s gonna fall and knock your brains out,” warned Brown, adding, “Them big shots, they don’t wanna spend money. But we are worth more than money, right?”

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