Rain and smoke: Major allegations about Minor's houses

Last week I wrote about some unhappy students who, upon moving out of a house they'd rented on Rugby Road, not only lost their $1,375 deposit, but also got stuck with a bill for another $1,100.

The house is owned by George Minor and managed by Godfrey Property Management. I toured the property, talked to current tenants and a next-door neighbor, corresponded with Greg and Don Godfrey by email, and interviewed the past president of the National Association of Residential Property Managers.

Godfrey maintained that their bill for damages, which included $1,500 for a paint job, was reasonable. Yet both the previous tenants– the group that contacted me– and this year's tenants assert that the house was and is in poor condition and is maintained in a negligent fashion. Minor, meanwhile, dismissed longstanding complaints from neighbors and says he's satisfied, in the main, with Godfrey's management of his properties.

I decided to investigate the condition of Minor's two other houses. One is 1926 Lewis Mountain Road, which is rented by Karl and Mary Mattson, who are spending this semester in Italy. I corresponded with Karl via email, and he expressed frustration over several seemingly serious conditions, all of which he asserts Godrey is aware of.

First, the Mattsons awoke woozily one night in the winter of 2001 to a house full of smoke. When the repairman arrived, Mattson watched as he worked and claims that the furnace was full of soot. They now have carbon-monoxide detectors in place.

I emailed the Godfreys to ask about this. "I do not recall a problem," replied Greg Godfrey, saying that a local heating service maintains the furnace. He also denied knowledge of a roof leak that has caused, in Mattson's words, "major structural rot in the walls."

Finally, according to Mattson, all household outlets are on a single 15-amp circuit. "This is common for old houses," he concedes, "but the actual panel is outside the house, not watertight and so rusty we sometimes have to bridge the gap between screw-in fuse and power contact with tinfoil."

Again, Godfrey said he knew nothing about the situation. Mattson can't believe it.

"I put it on paper," he says, "took the request to them personally and, while there, made a copy of it on their copying machine for my own records."

The Mattsons are in their third year in the house, so clearly they believe the pros outweigh the cons. (They also, as Mattson puts it, "have plenty of renters' insurance").

The third house owned by Minor and managed by Godfrey is in my own neighborhood, at 806 St. James Circle. It's been vacant since July 14, when Rick Ashby and his wife moved out. Like the Mattsons, they were long-term tenants and lived there for four years. "As long as things didn't need attention," Ashby told me, "it was fine." But when repairs were needed, he claims, service came slowly.

"Typically," says Ashby, "I would have to call eight or nine times, and it would take three or four weeks."

Ashby recalls the summer their daughter was two months old and one of the air-conditioning units broke. He says he called repeatedly asking for service, and one of the Godfreys– he's not certain which– "literally hung up" on him several times. When I emailed Greg Godfrey about this, he replied, "I do not recall specific conversations."

The Ashbys' worst memory of their time on St. James Circle, however, is of a leak in the bedroom window: Every time it rained, water would puddle on the floor. In the end, frustrated by Godfrey's alleged inaction, they called the City building inspector's office, and the leak was finally fixed.

If you're renting property that's owned by one party but managed by another, and you believe the place isn't being adequately maintained, the owner may not be aware of the property's condition (particularly if the owner lives outside the area). In that case, you can get the owner's name and complain to him or her directly. It's public record; if you're in the City, search online at http://166.61.234.130/assessor/LandRover.asp. In the County, call 296-5856.

Do you have a consumer problem or question? Email the Fearless Consumer, write her at 100 Second Street NW, 22902, or call 295-8700 ext. 406.