Problems found at houses on same Turtle Creek street

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Two houses rented through PGH Capital Management, on the same street in Turtle Creek, just a block apart, were the scenes of problems and inspections late last year.

Ashley Tart moved a year ago into a rental house on Maple Avenue, with her three children, ages 10, 8 and 6.

On Dec. 21, according to a fire department report, the basement flooded and a crew "found raw sewage coming up through the floor."

A certified nurse's assistant who sometimes moonlights as a dancer, Ms. Tart said the water drenched her children's Christmas presents.

PGH Capital Management filed to evict her. She said she often paid rent late, but always paid.

She moved, but has retained attorney Kevin Trower in an effort to recoup damages from the basement flood.

"There's an issue regarding the condition of the home and what it has done to her family," said Mr. Trower. Landlords have "a basic duty to maintain your property to a certain level."

Ms. Tart said she has never met the owner of the house, Michael Uspizai. The deed on file with the county indicates that he bought the property from Realty Choice Investments for $47,000 in June 2011 -- a month after that firm bought it for $22,000. Realty Choice typically buys properties and sells them to Israeli investors, who then contract with PGH Capital Management to rent them out and maintain them. Both companies are run by Dov Ratchkauskas of Squirrel Hill.

Turtle Creek Mayor Adam Forgie said foreign ownership creates enforcement problems for the borough.

"We've had some issues with them being out of the country, or out of the state, and not being willing to appear in court," he said. "They're going to be held accountable. It's a matter of when and where."

A block away from the house Ms. Tart rented, and the month before her flood, a tenant of PGH Capital called the Allegheny County Health Department saying the furnace had failed repeatedly.

The Health Department inspector visited the house on Dec. 19, and found 17 health code violations, including five water leaks and electrical problems including "evidence of burn" at one outlet, according to the inspection report.

Max Beier, an attorney who represents PGH Capital, said the tenant had "paid one-half of one month's rent, ever, on that property. She has failed to make any payment despite repeated attempts to enter into a payment plan."

PGH Capital filed a complaint on Nov. 15, alleging that the tenant was not paying her rent, but a district judge found in favor of the tenant. PGH Capital appealed that ruling. The tenant has since moved out.

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