House Bill 4425 passes the House, communicated to the Senate

House Bill 4425, which would would require landlords in West Virginia to address issues of the accumulation of moisture and the growth of mold, passed the House today and has been communicated to the Senate.

The bill was created by West Virginia University Student Government Association Off-Campus Housing Director Earl Hewitt, Carrie Showalter of WVU Student Legal Services and Nancy Key of Environmental Health & Safety.

Last week, members of the SGA traveled to the Capitol to help push for the bill. (West Virginia University students push for statewide bill on mold regulations)

You can follow the status of the bill here – House Bill 4425.

You can read the bill here – HB 4425 Text.

– Leann

That time my landlord left my door open and unlocked for an undetermined amount of time…

I just wanted to do a quick update today because I’m getting some new traffic thanks to a great article published in today’s edition of The Charleston Daily Mail – “Blog shines light on WVU off-campus housing.”

Not all landlords are bad. I’ve had some great experiences with landlords who immediately come out and fix things. But everyone has at least one story. And I’d like to share one, and hopefully some of you might like to share some in the comment section, as well.

When I was working in Clarksburg at the Exponent-Telegram, I was living in Morgantown. That’s about a 45-minute drive. One day I was working one of the later shifts – either until 8 or 9:30 p.m., and someone was supposed to stop by my apartment and fix something. I can’t even remember what it was.

So I get home after dark, and I notice that my front door is open about an inch. Not just unlocked, but actually open. My first thought wasn’t “what if there’s a murderer inside?” it was “OH MY GOD, I hope my cat didn’t get out!” My cat, Pinkus, has FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus), and she isn’t allowed to go outside. She can infect other kitties if she bites them, and she’s pretty vicious sometimes, as you can tell:

I went inside my apartment, found Pinkus napping safely inside, and then started worrying about serial killers. I checked the shower, and all the closets, then got furious. Why on earth would they leave my front door cracked open, for who knows how many hours? I’m sure they didn’t show up past 5 p.m., and it was at least past 8:30 p.m. when I got home.

The next day I called my landlord and asked about my door being left open. Her excuse? “Well, they said you had left the door cracked open, so they left it like they found it.”

First: No, I didn’t. I never leave my door open. I always, ALWAYS double-check that my door is locked because I’m paranoid/perhaps a little OCD.

Second: If I HAD left my door open, and it’s obvious that I wasn’t home, why would you leave it open? I once left my car unlocked over night at this place and had my GPS and iPod stolen out of my car. I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone walked right in my place and stole things.

Third: Why did no one call me? Wouldn’t it make sense that if no one was home, maybe the door shouldn’t have been open? They had my cell phone number, they could have easily made a quick call to check about the door.

Well, now I’m all heated up over the situation again, even though it happened several years ago. Anyone have any good stories that still upset you?

– Leann

When is an individual considered a sex offender in West Virginia?

On my last post about Morgantown landlord Gary Walden’s history of harassment, a commenter questioned why he wasn’t registered as a sex offender in West Virginia.

If you were unaware, sex offenders have to register with the state they live in, and you can find this information on www.familywatchdog.us to see if there are any in your neighborhood.

I called West Virginia State Police Public Information Officer Sgt. Michael Baylous to find out when someone must register as a sex offender. He suggested I speak with Terri Swecker, the coordinator of the sex-offender registration for the West Virginia State Police.

Swecker said that a person must register as a sex offender when they have been convicted of first, second or third degree sexual abuse, which is rape or inappropriate touching. Sexual harassment is not a registrable offense.

According to West Virginia State Code §61-8B-7, a person is guilty of first-degree sexual abuse when a person subjects another person to sexual contact without his/her consent, and the lack of consent results from forcible compulsion. Sexual contact is defined as “any intentional touching, either directly or through clothing, of the breasts, buttocks, anus or any part of the sex organs of another person, or intentional touching of any part of another person’s body by the actor’s sex organs, where the victim is not married to the actor and the touching is done for the purpose of gratifying the sexual desire of either party.”

(photo credit: http://www.legis.state.wv.us)

In 2006, Walden was sued by a tenant for sexual harassment. According to the West Virginia Record, the complaint stated “The Defendants have repeatedly subjected the Complainant to unlawful sexual harassment and have created a sexually hostile environment…”

According to the WV Record article:

  • [Stacie] Summers says she sought to rent Apartment B in one of the Walden’s apartment buildings in Westover on Jan. 20, 2005. When she met Gary Walden at the apartment, she says he fondled her breasts.
  • Summers says that Walden presented the lease, he again attempted to fondle her breasts. Summers says this prevented her from reading the full lease.
  • Walden again tried to fondle her breasts, she says, when he drove her to an ATM machine to collect rent money.
  • On another occasion, he tried to get one of his employees to touch Summers’ breasts, she says.
  • In March 2005, Summers says she did not have rent money when Walden confronted her about it, and he told her “Well, you are going to have to give me some head.”

Walden settled the sexual harassment suit in 2008, and was required to pay $175,000 to his victims, and was barred from coming into contact with his tenants for eight years.

So, the short answer is that Walden did not have to register as a sexual offender because he was not convicted of sexual abuse – he reached a settlement in a sexual harassment case.

In case you haven’t been keeping up, Walden was arrested on Monday for entering a tenant’s apartment while she was sleeping. She woke up to find Walden rubbing her leg.

– Leann

Morgantown landlord Walden has history of harassment

After hearing about Morgantown landlord Gary Walden being charged with entering without breaking and conspiracy, I decided to do some more research.

In April 2006, a renter, Stacie Summers, sued Walden for sexual harassment. Summers claimed that Gary Walden “repeatedly fondled her breasts and unfairly raised her rent.”

In February 2008, Gary Walden was charged with sexually harassing tenants. He was forced to pay $175,000 to his victims and was barred from contacting his tenants for eight years, which would end in 2016.

EDIT: 2/24/12 – Walden settled the sexual harassment lawsuit, so he was not charged.

In September 2008, four women testified that after Gary Walden was barred from having contact from tenants, that he visited their rental units unannounced, and harassed one over the original complaint against him. Tenants claimed he “continued to ask for sexual favors and harass them.

In October 2008, Gary Walden’s wife, Tina Walden, told the Human Rights Commission that “he is distancing himself from the family’s rental business and concentrating on manufactured housing.”

I found some reviews of the Waldens’ properties on DubVLandlords.com. There are only six reviews, but all are negative. I’m not presenting these as fact, as they are anonymous. Two posts, which were were made in 2011 and 2010, claim that Gary Walden entered their apartments while they were sleeping. (Click reviews to enlarge.)

This one goes into some more detail, but again claims that Walden entered the apartment without any notice.

Walden’s properties are registered with the city under Tina Walden. Tina is also listed as a defendant in his 2006 sexual harassment case.

The Waldens have approximately 10 properties registered within Morgantown city limits, which are listed on the city’s website. Their properties are located on Richwood Avenue, Sabraton Alley, Fife Street, Beverly Avenue, Mason Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s possible that they own several more properties that are outside of city limits in Sabraton, Westover, etc., but I can’t reach city officials because it is past 5 p.m. I’m going to make some calls tomorrow to find out more.

– Leann

Morgantown landlord charged with entering without breaking and conspiracy

Gary Walden, a 61-year-old Morgantown landlord previously accused of sexual harassment, was arrested Monday for “entering a tenant’s apartment uninvited and rubbing her leg,” according to an article in today’s Dominion Post.

(photo credit: The Dominion Post)

Walden was charged with entering without breaking and conspiracy. His bond was set at $15,000, and he was held at North Central Regional Jail as of Monday afternoon. As of today, Jan. 22, he seems to have been released.

The resident of Dunkard Avenue apartment, located in Westover, called police on January 17 and told them that she woke up in her bed and found Walden touching and rubbing her leg. She was also missing $900, according to the criminal complaints.

Walden and another man, 55-year-old Robert L. Wilson of Westover, told police they were at the apartment at the time of the incident. Walden told police that he was there to collect rent. The accuser and another person confirmed rent wasn’t due for 15 days.

Wilson was arrested Saturday for without breaking and conspiracy, but is free on $5,000 bond. He had assisted in changing the locks the day before the incident occurred, and an employee of Walden’s gave him the master key after the locks were changed, according to the article.

This was not Walden’s first time inappropriately touching tenants. According to the article:

Walden settled a civil lawsuit in early 2008 by paying tenants he allegedly groped $175,000, and paying a $50,000 fine for violating the West Virginia Fair Housing Act. He also signed an agreement that restricted his contact with tenants to emergency situations and required him to file reports with the Human Rights Commission when he has contact with tenants.

Later that year, the commission filed a complaint accusing Walden of violating the agreement, but West Virginia Deputy Attorney General Paul R. Sheridan said a ruling is still pending, according to the article.

UPDATE: (Feb. 22, 3:08 p.m.) I found an article from Walden’s 2008 sexual harassment case – Landlord Settles Sexual Harassment Suit

UPDATE (Feb. 23, 10:00 a.m.): New post with more background information on Walden – Morgantown landlord Walden has history of harassment

– Leann

West Virginia University students push for statewide bill on mold regulations

Today’s Daily Athenaeum had a follow-up article on the West Virginia University Student Government Association’s progress on getting legislation passed on mold regulations.

According to the article (“Student orgs advocate for safe housing bill“), more than 30 students from the SGA and Student Advocates for Legislative Advancement traveled to the Capitol in Charleston, W.Va. to push for House Bill 4425.

House Bill 4425 would amend and reenact §37-6-30 of West Virginia State Code. It would require a landlord to “address issues of accumulation of moisture and the growth of mold; and requiring the landlord to perform mold remediation in accordance with professional standards.”

The exact wording to be added if passed would be:

(8) Maintain the premises in such a condition as to prevent the accumulation of moisture and the growth of mold and to promptly respond to any notices from a tenant. When the accumulation of moisture in the dwelling unit materially affects the health or safety of any tenant or authorized occupant, the landlord may require the tenant to temporarily vacate the dwelling unit in order for the landlord to perform mold remediation in accordance with professional standards.

The lead sponsor for House Bill 4255 is Tiffany Elizabeth Lawrence (D-Jefferson). It is also sponsored by Ryan Ferns (D-Ohio), Barbara Evans Fleischauer (D-Monongalia), Tim Miley (D-Harrison) and Jim Morgan, (D-Cabell).

The bill was introduced to the house on February 6, but no other action has been taken yet.

I’m going to keep following up with this bill. Hopefully the WVU students will have an impact on legislators and some action will be taken.

– Leann

Be wary when looking for housing on Craigslist

Two women in South Carolina were recently arrested for scamming students out of money by lying to them about leasing apartments, according to an article from wltx.com.

(Photo credit: Lexington Co. Detention Center. Cynthia Louise Allen (left), Coreshia Malasia Henry)

According to the article:

West Columbia Police Chief Dennis Tyndall says the victims would place ads on Craigslist looking for people sublease their student housing leases.  Allen and Henry, Tyndall says, would contact the victims and take money from them in exchange for assuming the lease. However, officers say once they got the money, they stopped contacting the victims, and never took over the lease.

I’ve not heard of any Craigslist housing scams in Morgantown, but when I spoke to Carrie Showalter from WVU student Legal Services, she said there was an incident with a landlord renting out apartments he didn’t own.

The WLTX article has some tips from West Columbia Police Chief Dennis Tyndall for subleasing an apartment:

  1. Never pay, wire transfer or give money to any person to take over your lease.
  2. Always follow the rental property sublease terms.
  3. Have the person who is taking over your lease fill out the necessary contracts with the rental property staff.
  4. Don’t mail, fax or e-mail a blank lease agreement to a potential sub-lessee.  Have them work details out through the property rental office.

-Leann