ROCKVILLE, Md. — In the midst of a pandemic with an eviction moratorium on, a Rockville family of four was kicked out of their home Thursday not by their landlord, but by a Montgomery County housing inspector.
The inspector condemned the basement apartment where Nathan Feinberg, Ibtisam Abdul-Barr and their two children had lived for four months; saying the windows were too small for the family to escape in a fire.
Feinberg said he'd yet to tell his daughter, ages two and five.
"That's the worst thing. When we pick them up from school. I have to tell them, we don't have a home anymore. I haven't been able to tell them yet, but that's what we have to do," Feinberg said as his voice broke and he began to weep.
The family had called Montgomery County's Department of Housing and Community Affairs to complain that their landlord, Solomon Hailemariam, was building another rental unit in the garage of the home where he lives too. The inspector found Hailemariam was constructing the additional unit without a permit, but also condemned the apartment where the family was living.
Feinberg is a teaching assistant in special education and math at Kennedy High School in Silver Spring. Abdul-Barr is a teacher at the private Barrie School.
On Wednesday, the inspector gave the family 24 hours to move their family out, saying it was too dangerous for them to stay. On Thursday, she returned to make sure they were out.
"We were given 24 hours’ notice to be thrown out of our home in the middle of a pandemic and either crowd in with a family member or go to a homeless shelter," Feinberg said.
“This is an unfortunate and tragic situation that these residents are going through for doing the right thing, which was to report this unpermitted construction," county spokesman Scott Peterson said. "Our Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs has contacted the tenants and is working to locate suitable temporary housing for the family until they can locate permanent housing for them."
"Not fine him. He's ok," Abdul-Barr told WUSA9 in the front yard Thursday, pointing at her landlord. "But they're kicking us out because our windows are too small," she said.
"I'm trying to get the permit for the windows. It just takes longer," Hailemiriam said.
"It is critically important that residents report unpermitted construction to the county as it is a grave threat to the health and safety of all inhabitants and tenants. We appreciate WUSA9 for bringing this issue to our attention so we could immediately address this matter and assist these residents,” the county spokesman said.
But the young family said they're the ones paying the steepest price.
"The message they are sending to renters in this county is clear. If your landlord is breaking the law, keep your mouth shut. Do not report. Because you're the one who ends up being homeless," Feinberg said.
After calls from WUSA9, Montgomery County told the family it would temporarily move them into a hotel, and work to find them permanent housing later.