Pay a visit to some of the crumbling low-income apartments only blocks from the most prestigious Salt Lake addresses and knock on the door of squalid living. Welcome to the doorstep of the worst of Salt Lake City.

A shocking 11,400 rental units in Utah's capital city fall below federal housing standards. Some are in moderate disrepair while others pose significant health and safety risks.These are the apartments that lack heat in mid-winter, where bare electrical wires hang dangerously from walls, where rotting front stoops strain under the weight of a single tenant.

And in many instances, it is the landlord that's to blame.

"This place is a dump," said one tenant of an apartment owned by a landlord who thrice pleaded guilty to charges brought by the city that he failed to make repairs on his east-downtown apartment.

The tenant - like others with whom the Deseret News spoke, all wishing to remain anonymous - spared no words in expressing her frustration with the landlord, whom she recently confronted on her apartment's front lawn.

"I stood out there one night for 20 minutes screaming at him: You're a slumlord. All you want is money; you don't care if people live in squalor," she said.

Increasingly, the city is taking court action against landlords responsible for these apartments. This year alone, the city has issued scores of citations, and many of those have ended up in court.

One landlord, Arvil Harris, owner of three apartment complexes on the 600 block of east First South Street, pleaded guilty this month to a charge of not complying with an order to repair three of his apartment buildings.

The judge instructed Harris to sell or fix his buildings. All three buildings were cited for a total of 142 housing code violations, according to city Building and Housing Division records.

Some of the violations are minor, such as missing siding. Others are more significant - dangerous wiring, structural deficiencies, inoperable widows, no smoke detectors.

"He doesn't take care of this place at all," said a tenant. "All he does is when he takes our money he just puts it in his pocket and that's it," she said.

Harris - whose story, along with those of other landlords, will be told tomorrow in the second of a Deseret News series on problem landlords - responded he is burdened by utility bills and can't afford to upgrade his buildings.

What's more, Harris said, his tenants expect more than is possible on the $200 average monthly rent they pay. "If people want a $300 apartment, they should get off their tails, get a job and go find a $300 apartment."

John W. Purdue, another landlord who has found himself in court for a number of building violations, was found guilty by a jury of charges of failing to make repairs on three properties. He is appealing to avoid the $1,500 fine.

Purdue also pleaded guilty to two more housing code violations.

Purdue's violations number 181 for the five properties involved in court action - including exposed wiring, an improperly vented furnace and a broken toilet, according to Building and Housing records.

Many of the apartments owned by Harris and Purdue are now vacant, ordered boarded up by the city, which considers closing the buildings a necessary precaution but a serious blow to the status of the city's low-income housing.

Smith Apartments, 228 S. Third East, is another building recently closed by the city in a long battle between the city and the building's owners, First National Leasing, over fixing a broken heating plant in the apartment.

The broken boiler left tenants to rely on cooking stoves for warmth, until First National shut off the Smith's gas supply and the city took official action to relocate its tenants.

While First National said the building was already in a dilapidated condition when purchased in 1987, a former First National manager said whenever repairs arose, he was told by First National to use only the crudest of materials, like paint and masking tape.

- Tomorrow: Landlords say rent too low to maintain buildings.



Who lives in Salt Lake's worst?

Mary, a welfare mother with a daughter, lives on $300 monthly in government assistance. She pays $170 a month for two-room apartment with no bathroom. "Where else can I go? I'm not going to any place worse than this."

Richard and Linda - both disabled and unable to work - have three children, one mentally retarded, who gets a government check. They pay $210 a month for a two-bedroom duplex with broken toilet. "It's not really worth it but it's a lot better than living on the street," says Linda.

David and Cheryl - he's unemployed, she's pregnant - pay $220 a month for an apartment that went without heat for weeks this winter. "This wasn't a bad building when I moved in . . . but then the building started going to hell," David said.