Robert Martinez's gas stove has been on bake for more than a week now.
Martinez and his relatives live at the Smith Apartments, 230 S. Third East, where on Feb. 3 the steam heat stopped after a boiler became submerged in a foot of water spewing from a leaky pipe.Without heat, Martinez has been relying on his gas stove. The air in his living room was tainted with the smell of gas as he told how the fumes give him headaches and drove many of his relatives out of the apartment.
"Yesterday, I moved out my sister, my grandmother and my uncle," he said.
Monday, Salt Lake housing inspectors closed the apartment because the owners, First National Leasing Inc., failed to comply with an order to restore the heat by Monday's noon deadline.
Additionally, the city issued First National - which owns four other complexes in the city, one of which is also without heat - a misdemeanor citation for failing to comply with the repair order, Roger Evans, city building and housing director, said.
The closure means Martinez and the handful of other tenants still living there must vacate their apartment or live there out of compliance with the order. Thirty tenants already evacuated the building during the weekend.
"We're concerned about the tenants. We're doing everything we can to rectify the situation," Dave Lehmberg, property manager for the 1-year-old First National Leasing, told reporters Monday.
Lehmberg said he did everything possible to restore the heat quickly last week, when temperatures dropped well below freezing. Plumbers contacted to repair the boiler were too busy, he said, although one was at work Monday.
"We've tried repeatedly to get someone to repair it but no one comes," Lehmberg said.
City Housing officials doubted First National did its utmost to bring heat to the occupants, many of whom are low-income tenants.
"Absolutely not, they made no good-faith effort whatsoever," said Evans, when asked if the company had tried diligently to restore the heat.
Evans described First National's attitude about the heat in the building over the last week as lackadaisical.
"As far as he was concerned, the people here could move out if they wanted to," said Evans, quoting Lehmberg.
Lehmberg denied he made the statement. He did say, however, "they can move out if they want to, but we don't want them to."
If the building is emptied, Lehmberg said, First National Leasing would remodel the building and rent it out again, likely at higher rates, a prospect Evans said is unfortunate.
"We're losing these kinds of buildings rapidly," he said. "There's not a lot of places these people can go."
Lehmberg said the company bought all four of its older apartment buildings last July. A second complex, the Park Manor, 841 S. Fifth East, has been without heat since Feb. 3, Evans said.
Housing officials wrote First National, calling for repair of the heating system, said Harvey Boyd, assistant building and housing director.
The repairs have not yet been made and after an inspection Monday Boyd said steam was escaping from an apparent broken pipe and leaking through walls and into apartment rooms.
The city has money in a housing repair and abatement fund, however, to make repairs at Park Manor, Boyd said. A heating repairman at the complex said it may cost about $2,000.
"The fund isn't intended to be used in this way, but what can we do," Boyd asked.
First National Leasing incorporated in January 1988, according to the state Department of Business Regulations. Officers include John Higgins, president and Hugh Hintze, vice president, according to Business Regulations.