Norcrossed: Feud erupts at hip urban flat

It may be time to update the website for Norcross Station, the historic warehouse on Fourth Street SE that's been converted to upscale apartments. Specifically, owner Enterprise Properties might be wise to downplay their declaration that "parking is private and secure," since seven cars in the allegedly secure lot were torched on December 28.

Cecil Roebuck, owner of one of the unfortunate cars, moved in last June. But on January 10, without giving notice, he left abruptly. The same day, he sent Bill Dittmar at Enterprise Properties– who, with his brother Robert, developed and manages the property– a letter in which he listed his reasons for breaking his lease.

He had three main complaints. First, he claimed that "seven times in the past five months" there had been "significant water leakage" in his apartment whenever it rained, which led to widespread mildew on the brick wall. This, in turn, made him "sick and reactive."

Next, Roebuck asserted that his air conditioning/heating system was cooling and heating the adjoining 600-sq.-ft. foyer, a charge he claimed had been confirmed by experts and "an esteemed local commercial developer."

Finally, he charged that the security cameras "remained inoperable for months and months, despite staff promises to fix them." Roebuck is understandably aggrieved on this point; those are the cameras that, if they had been working, might have recorded what happened to his car and at whose hands.

I met with the Dittmar brothers at their office, where they showed me a copy of their lengthy response to Roebuck's letter. Both dispute his claim that they didn't adequately respond to the water and mold situation, deny that he was charged to heat and cool the lobby, and refute Roebuck's version of what happened with the security cameras– though they do admit that the cameras weren't working when the cars caught fire.

First, as for the water problem, the Dittmars claim that Roebuck reported three– not seven– incidents, and that in response they were "very proactive." Each time, say the Dittmars, contractor R.E. Lee performed successively more precise adjustments and repairs to Roebuck's front door and the exterior wall, after which the problem was solved.

The problem, they say, is that "storefront" units such as Roebuck's, which open onto the sidewalk and not into an interior hallway, present complex engineering problems; such incidents, they emphasize– especially in light of the building's age and "flatiron" shape– are aggravating but not surprising.

When I toured Roebuck's former apartment on February 3, the carpet appeared to be dry and the brick wall free of mildew– but, as Roebuck points out, three weeks had elapsed since he left.

The Dittmars contend that Roebuck's electric bill was high not because he was bankrolling the lobby's utilities, but because he was using the wrong setting on his thermostat. As for the security cameras, they claim that no one reported they weren't working until December 21, and that they moved "immediately" to get them fixed. The repairs became drawn out, however, in part because of the holidays. The upshot was that the cameras weren't fixed until December 29– the day after the fire in the parking lot.

In addition to disputing Roebuck's depiction of them as negligent, the Dittmars had their own complaint: Roebuck, they claim, paid his rent on time only once (September), bounced checks, and left owing them rent for the second half of December and all of January.

When I asked Roebuck about the bounced checks, he said that his bank had printed the wrong account number on his checks, that he had written the two checks on the same day, and that the bank had written the Dittmars to explain the mistake.

According to Robert, however, "That is completely, 100 percent false." Roebuck had told the Dittmars about the wrong account number, Robert said, but the bank never wrote to confirm his story. Furthermore, the checks (for July and August) were written in separate months. If the first check had bounced due to an incorrect account number, why had Roebuck written a second?

The Dittmars' position is that if Roebuck will pay his rent through January, they'll let him cancel his lease. Roebuck, however, maintains that the apartment was uninhabitable due to dampness and mold and insists he won't pay.

Sounds like more will follow; if it does, I'll let you know.

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.