Judge gives South Hills landlord 30 days for tenant relocation proposal

A landlord facing an avalanche of building and health code violations for a row of town houses and a neighboring apartment complex in Carrick will have until the end of the month to clear out the remaining tenants before his next appearance in front of a local judge.

Davin Gartley of Mt. Lebanon has been cited repeatedly since October for problems related to lead paint, sewage, trash, lack of running water and more.

The continuance Magisterial District Judge Richard G. King granted June 26 required Mr. Gartley to come up with a "good faith" relocation plan for the tenants living in three apartment buildings at 2531-2539 Brownsville Road in exchange for the possibility of reduced fines, said Jim Thompson, deputy director of environmental health for the Allegheny County Health Department.

"We were surprised. This has been a long, ongoing case," Mr. Thompson said. "Granting another 30 days, with this landlord being so difficult, we're not sure exactly what that will accomplish."

Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette

Resident Damben Gurung, 38, talks about his search for a new home outside one of the Carrick properties owned by Davin Gartley, who faces a slew of violations. Tenants were told by the state Attorney General Bureau of Consumer Protection that they are not obligated to pay rent for June and July.

Mr. Gartley, 38, faces as much as $69,000 in fines for the lead paint, which the county suspects caused the elevated levels of the toxic metal that were detected in the blood of a 1-year-old boy. He owes thousands in unpaid taxes on the property, which includes a mix of town houses, apartment buildings and dilapidated garages that has been a source of frustration for county and city officials for years.

"It's a very difficult landlord that we're dealing with here. Certainly, our work is not finished yet," Mr. Thompson said. "The problems have not been corrected, to our knowledge."

Mr. Gartley, who was arrested in Pittsburgh on cocaine possession with intent to deliver and other drug charges after a May 22 traffic stop and was charged by Bethel Park police last month with writing bad checks and theft of services, could not be reached for comment.

His attorney, David Valencik, asked a reporter to email questions but did not respond to them.

At the June 26 hearing, Judge King fined Mr. Gartley more than $2,000 for maintenance and water-service violations at other properties he owns on Edwards Way, Mary Street and Jane Street on the South Side. That joined $1,800 in fines assessed for running garden hoses to provide water service to the 14 Carrick town houses on Berg Place, which the county ordered to be vacated in April after failing to get Mr. Gartley to address the problems. City building inspectors have also filed their own case against Mr. Gartley based on the 347 violations they identified in visits to Berg Place and the nearby Brownsville Road apartments.

"We are anticipating that by the time the 30 days have expired that he will have corrected the issues that are still outstanding on his properties," said Sonya Toler, a spokeswoman for the city Public Safety Department, which includes the Bureau of Building Inspection. "That is our hope. ... It's something he has failed to do repeatedly."

The state Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection also has stepped in, meeting with Mr. Gartley and his attorney to ensure tenants, including dozens of Bhutanese refugees, don't have to pay rent for June and July and encourage them to make an attempt to reclaim their security deposits, said Senior Deputy Attorney General Amy Schulman.

"We became aware of the situation at Berg Place, and we had similar concerns as the other agencies regarding health, safety and welfare but also the financial interests of the tenants, particularly that they were paying rent to live under these conditions," she said, adding that the city agreed to provide trash service at no cost to the tenants after Mr. Gartley's failure to pay a private sanitation company left garbage uncollected for weeks. Pennsylvania American Water Co. also agreed to keep the water on until Aug. 2 at no cost to tenants.

"It's uncommon to see violations on this scale," Ms. Schulman said. "The landlord has done nothing to abate the conditions."

Leslie Aizenman, director of refugee and immigrant services for Jewish Family and Children's Service, said the Pittsburgh nonprofit has taken the lead role in a six-group partnership, including the county government, that is working to help the refugee families find new places to live.

Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette

Boards block re-entry at the Carrick townhouse properties owned by Davin Gartley.

Of the 18 units on Brownsville Road, an American family occupied only one, she said. The rest, about 70 people, were Bhutanese refugees who came to the United States from camps in Nepal. The groups also helped relocate families displaced by the county's order to vacate the Berg Place units.

"They would have loved to stay in that neighborhood, but that's probably not going to be possible. They are going to have decent housing," she said, adding that every refugee still at the apartments has a plan to find new housing.

At the apartments Friday, tenants said they hadn't seen Mr. Gartley for a few weeks.

Trash and debris spilled from the crumbling garages, and old couches and other garbage was piled in front of the town houses, which are boarded up and bear a yellow warning notice from the county health department that says they are "unfit for human habitation."

Residents said about 10 families are left in the buildings, which look handsome enough until you get close enough to see the broken and occasionally boarded windows, rotted porches and banisters and ratty carpet.

"It's a tough situation," said 40-year-old Tika Pokhrel, who lives in the apartments with his wife and 82-year-old mother. He has yet to find a new place to live.

"I'm trying," Mr. Pokhrel said. "I've applied at many places. I think they'll call me. I hope."

Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette

Dambar Pokhrel. 82, left, and Krishna Siwakoti, 89, sit on the porch of Ms. Pokhrel's apartment, one of the Carrick properties owned by Davin Gartley.

He saw Mr. Gartley about two weeks ago but doesn't plan on trying to get his deposit back, reasoning that he and his family have been living there for two months rent-free.

"He came, but he didn't talk to us," Mr. Pokhrel said.

Many of the tenants at the building Friday said that despite the reeking sewage that leaked out into a parking lot earlier this year, the lack of running water at times, the discovery of toxic lead-based paint, malfunctioning lights, broken windows, heaps of trash and other problems, they were reluctant to leave.

"We like [it] here, but we must move now," said Kumar Chhetri, 45.

Robert Zullo: rzullo@post-gazette.com, 412-263-3909 or on Twitter @rczullo.

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