Some 200 Jenkintown residents, many of them elderly, are losing their apartments due to a dispute between local officials and the property owner.
"We're the pawns in this," said Marshall Jones, 93. "[The owner] is saying, 'If you won't do it our way, we'll just close it down.' "
Jones has lived in the Colonade high-rise apartments on Old York Road, in the Jenkintown section of Abington Township, for 16 years. He and other residents have had a string of complaints about leaks, electrical outages, broken elevators, cold water, broken heaters, and other issues, many of which ended up in the courts.
In 2012, the building was cited for more than 200 code violations, and the township's solicitor was "looking into criminal charges," according to an Inquirer report.
Both the owners, Boston-based Metropolitan Properties of America (MPA), and Abington officials say the building is now up to code and fully inhabitable.
The owner wants to upgrade the 1955 buildings and convert some street-level commercial units into luxury apartments. The township likes that plan but says renovating the building will trigger a requirement to also modernize the fire-alarm system.
In a letter to residents Aug. 26, the owner told residents the building would have to be vacated for renovation. The company placed the blame squarely on the township, saying, "We did everything in our power to avoid putting you, our residents, through this inconvenience," but "the obstacles the township has created have made this impossible."
All but about 30 residents would have to be out by Oct. 30, a company spokeswoman said.
Benjamin Sanchez, the Abington commissioner whose ward includes the Colonade, said he could not comment because of "actual and threatened litigation."
Planning Director Lawrence Matteo said the letter, and the litigation, soured what had been a good working relationship between MPA and the township.
"They make it seem like we're the bad guys," he said Wednesday. "This really bothers me."
Matteo wrote his own letter to Colonade residents, saying: "At no time has the township suggested that the buildings must be vacated while the renovations are being completed. Rather, this was a choice the property owners made."
Jeffrey Cohen, chief executive of MPA, said in an e-mail Wednesday that the township's delay in issuing building permits - the company wanted to break ground May 1 - has created "such a time crunch that, as soon as we have approvals from the township, we will need to execute these renovations as quickly and efficiently as possible."
Matteo disputed that, saying the process was going fine until "everybody's attorneys got involved. That's where the delay really is now."