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One morning last October, Nancy Fiedler stepped out of the shower and met the gaze of two rough-looking men on the balcony of her eighth-floor Dupont Circle apartment. She nearly fainted from shock. “It completely made me lose it,” she says.
Fortunately, the men had not come to pillage Fiedler’s apartment. They were innocent repairmen, carrying out orders to inspect and fix the concrete balconies in her building, the modest Westpark at 2130 P St. NW. Somehow, Fiedler had missed the notice from management informing the tenants about the project.
A few days later, Fiedler awoke to the reverberating din of jackhammers pounding her balcony. While most tenants accepted the disruption as the price of a sturdy balcony, the jackhammers sent Fiedler on a quixotic crusade against her landlord, Quadrangle Development Corp., that continues to this day. She’s spent hundreds of dollars of her own money and countless hours of her own time tracking down the various “leads” of her investigation.
“They just baffle me,” says Fiedler, who doesn’t dispute that the balconies need to be repaired, but feels the landlords approach has been ham-fisted. “When it comes to tenants, they just don’t seem to have any respect or concern, or even common courtesy.”
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Fiedler has worked as a researcher for the Washington Times and National Public Radio but is now unemployed. Which means she has both the skills and time to look for dirt on Quadrangle. Her first stop: the building inspection division of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA). There she found what she was looking for.
It turned out that the Culbertson Co. of Virginia Inc., Quadrangle’s general contractor for the balcony repairs, didn’t have a construction permit for the job. Fiedler immediately fired off a letter to Brian Mitchell, a construction inspector in DCRA’s building division, requesting an investigation. Mitchell pulled the plug on the jackhammers for two blessed weeks this spring while he investigated the matter. Fiedler was right, he ruled: Quadrangle should have obtained a permit before allowing Culbertson to start the work. He fined Quadrangle $500.
Emboldened by her small victory, Fiedler pressed on. “I figured, if they’re so stupid as to not know whether they need a permit or not, maybe they were cutting corners in other areas as well,” she says.
Recalling that there had been problems with the hot water a few years ago, she fired off a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to DCRA’s boiler division, asking them to divulge the contents of the file on the Westpark’s boiler. What she learned didn’t please her.
Although the law requires boilers of the kind in the Westpark to be inspected daily, Fiedler claims that Quadrangle’s file contained no trace of routine inspections. So she began making a pest of herself, writing letters and calling various inspectors in the boiler division and the heads of various offices at DCRA.
Finally, last week she got hold of a woman in the boiler division who would only give her name as Wanda. Wanda said everything was fine with the boiler. Since then, nobody in the boiler division has taken or returned any of Fiedler’s calls.
It didn’t matter, though, because by that time Fiedler was already pursuing suspicions in another part of the building: the parking garage. After what she terms “endless phone calls” to various D.C. government agencies, she learned several weeks ago that Quadrangle doesn’t have a license to operate a public parking garage. What a scandal!
Not quite. After another round of calls to a flotilla of bureaucrats who wouldn’t call her back, a “nameless voice” in the District’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance informed her that the landlord doesn’t need a license, because only tenants park in the garage.
Somewhere along the way, Fiedler also managed to find out that the Culbertson Co. didn’t have a license to do contracting work in the District. She called Mitchell and pushed for another fine, but he told her that Culbertson, being a general contractor, doesn’t need a license to operate in the District.
So that’s where things stand. Fiedler has sent out five FOIA requests and knows most of the DCRA secretaries by name. For all her effort, she’s come up with a measly $500 fine and a temporary work stoppage. Perhaps more frustrating for Fiedler, she hasn’t even pissed off her landlord. “We value all our tenants,” says Bill Longhi, senior property manager for Quadrangle. “I don’t want anything I say about Nancy to be construed in a negative way. She’s a customer, and we try to service all our customers.”CP