On almost every day since Feb. 27, 2012, an employee of Whitemarsh Township has swung by the offices of District Justice Deborah Lukens in Lafayette Hill to drop off another ordinance violation for the Washington Towers apartment buildings in Fort Washington.
To be exact, there are now 53 citations in total, each carrying a fee of approximately $1,069. And they'll continue to pile up until the building makes adequate repairs to get up to code, officials say.
Also on file at the court is a docket sheet for a summary citation against Washington Towers and owner Bilal Mian, as part of an ongoing trial in which Whitemarsh Township is arguing that the buildings are unsafe.
Patch has obtained records that show authorities have been investigating the buildings since early February. Terry Sztubinski, an employee with Whitemarsh's Building and Codes Office, told Patch that a number of violations were discovered during routine inspections by both that office and the Fire Marshal's office. However, he declined to talk specifics of the violations.
Court records show that the building, located at 491 South Bethlehem Pike, was cited for violations of township property, building, and fire codes and that the "buildings are unsafe and unsanitary [with]…multiple violations pertaining to life, safety, and health."
In addition, the citations stated that work was being done on the premises without required permits, and that property owners had been warned multiple times over previous years.
"Follow up inspections have continued to reveal new violations which jeopardize the well being of the occupants of the buildings," the citation said.
Patch has obtained a number of e-mails sent between emergency officials in early February, documenting investigations. One e-mail, sent during the first week of February, stated that a 24-hour fire watch had been implemented for the buildings, after inspectors determined that there was inadequate safety equipment. In order for tenants to be able to remain in the apartments, an individual was required to walk each floor of the building hourly, around the clock, and document his or her findings.
In addition, the e-mail stated that the buildings were infested with bed bugs and that if no action was taken by management by Feb. 8, that the buildings would be condemned and residents taken off site.
Then in mid-February, a second e-mail stated that management had satisfactorily hired a contractor to begin repair work, although a fire watch was still in place and a bed bug problem persisted.
It is unclear what transpired next, but on Feb. 27, the first citation was issued against the building. While Sztubinski stated that the fire watches are no longer in effect, and that proper repairs have been made to fire safety equipment, the township is continuing to issue citations until currently existing violations are fully repaired. Sztubinski says that the building is still occupied by its tenants, estimated at about 80 families.
Court records show that employees of Washington Towers, represented by Bensalem-based attorney Christopher Steward, Esq., pleaded not guilty to the summary citation on April 27. They currently await a May 30 summary trial date with Judge Deborah Lukens.
Patch reached out to Steward to ask whether his client was taking the position that the violations were unfounded, or whether he was seeking to have any or all of the fees dismissed. Stewart stated that he would consult with his client, but did not respond to Patch by the stated deadline.
Sztubinski also could not say what outcome the defendants were seeking by entering a not guilty plea, and differed further questions to his brother and Whitemarsh Buildings and Code Director Robert Sztubinski, who is currently out of town.
Check back with Patch as we continue to report on this story.