West Virginia Human Rights Commission’s new website

I was recently contacted by Josh Brown, a housing investigator with the West Virginia Human Rights Commission, who told me the commission has a new website, www.hrc.wv.gov.

Brown said the new website contains “a lot of information concerning rights that tenants have under the WV Fair Housing Act (WV Code 5-11A) regarding discrimination as well as other resources that some may find helpful. Individuals can find information on our site concerning their rights as well as how to file a complaint if they feel that they have been the target of discrimination in the rental or sale of housing.”

On the main page there’s a list of the commission’s most popular forms:

There’s even a page to explain how you can file a complaint.

The West Virginia Human Rights Commission deals with issues relating to discrimination not only in housing, but in employment and places of public accommodations. There’s definitely some interesting information on there, so I suggest checking it out if you have a chance.

– Leann

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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

The Players: Landlords/Rental Properties

When looking into covering a topic, a reporter has to look at the “players,” or the people who are involved. There are a few groups that I consider to be the important players in this topic:

Today I’m going to look into landlords and rental properties in Sunnyside.

The way I’ve found these apartments is by searching at apartmentratings.com and Google Maps. It’s possible that I left some out, and if you notice that I have, please leave a comment to let me know.

According to Sunnyside Up, “Sunnyside is located immediately to the west of West Virginia University’s Downtown Campus and adjacent to the Square at Falling Run development, encompasses more than 130 acres of land between Campus Drive, Jones Avenue, Eighth Street and the banks of the Monongahela River.” Here are a couple rough outlines I created with Google Maps of the area:

(To view full map and use interactive features, go here)

(To view full-size interactive map, go here. This is the Google Earth view.)

I will list each apartment, the address and a link to its rating from apartmentratings.com, if available. In a previous post, I noted that apartmentratings.com seems to be the most popular place for Morgantown residents to review and rate their rental units. It’s important to actually read the reviews and not just make a decision based on the rating. Some are highly recommended despite their low scores.

  • Bent Tree Court/Pine Ridge / Corner of 8th Street & Beechurst Ave. / 3.7 out of 5
  • Glenlock North / 2108 University Ave. / 1.5 out of 5
  • Kelly Rental Management LLC / 100 7th St.
  • Mel Friend Rental Apartments / 48 Campus Dr.
  • Metro Towers / 2567 University Ave.
  • Mountaineer Court / 1993 Water St. / 2.7 out of 5
  • MTW Apartments LLC / 521 Beverly Ave.
  • Ondo Rentals / First St. / 3.0 out of 5
  • PanCo Properties / 230 Beechurst Ave. / 2.3 out of 5
  • Riverview Estates / 3028 Grand Central Station Dr.
  • Sunnyside Commons / 235 Jones Ave.
  • Terrace Heights Apartments / 2760 University Ave. / 3.7 out of 5
  • University Prime Properties / 507 Beechurst Ave. / 3.1 out of 5
  • Whetco Enterprises / 263 Grant Avenue.
  • Wincor Properties / 251 Beechurst Ave.

I created the map below with all of the above mentioned apartments marked. Click on a blue mark to see the address and name of the apartment. You can view the full-size version of the map here.

-Leann

The Players: Morgantown Code Enforcement

Today I’m going to focus on another important “player” in the off-campus housing issue –  Morgantown’s Code Enforcement Division.

What is code enforcement and what does it do?

The code enforcement division is made up of inspectors who check rental properties to make sure they are up to the city’s code.

Morgantown, West Virginia has more than 7,600 registered rental units and between 3,000 to 3,500 landlords. You can find a complete list of all rental units registered with the city here.

Morgantown’s Code Enforcement Division is supposed to inspect each of the city’s thousands of rental units once every three years.

Once a landlord is registered with the city, he/she must make an appointment with the code enforcement office to have all units inspected. The landlord must pay $25 per unit for an inspection. If the landlord doesn’t make an initial appointment, or an appointment within 30 days of the previous letter of compliance expiring, then the code enforcement office will schedule an appointment for the units.

What do Code Enforcement officers look for during inspections?

Code enforcement checks housing for safety issues. The biggest code violation is smoke detectors, according to Chief Inspector Mike Stone. Stone said that every time an officer comes back from an inspection, there’s always a smoke detector violation on the form.

There are four main problems with smoke detectors:

  1. Batteries in smoke detector are dead
  2. Batteries were removed from smoke detector
  3. A plastic bag has been placed over the detector
  4. There is no smoke detector where one is required

The first three issues are the tenants’ responsibility. If they don’t keep working batteries in the smoke detector, they could be fined $500. Also, some tenants place a plastic bag over the detector to prevent it from going off when smoking or cooking, according to Stone.

A landlord can be fined for not having smoke detectors in the proper places. All bedrooms must have a smoke detector, and one must be present outside of the bedrooms. They are not necessary in a kitchen unless the kitchen is the room right outside of the bedroom. Each floor must have at least one smoke detector. If a smoke detector is in a room that it’s not required to be in, it still must have working batteries, and that is the tenant’s responsibility.

Officers look at other safety issues, such as electrical wiring (Is the wiring done properly? Are wires frayed?), extension cords (these should not be overloaded with numerous items) and exits (exits should not be obstructed).

What happens after the inspection?

After the first inspection, the landlord and tenants have three weeks to fix any problems – it depends on whose responsibility it is. After three weeks, a code enforcement officer returns to see if the violations have been fixed. If not, then the landlord or tenant can be taken to court.

When are code enforcement cases heard?

Code enforcement officers are in court every Tuesday from 8 a.m. until noon, and every Thursday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

In the future, I plan to attend at least one of these court hearings and take notes to report on how they typically work.

-Leann


Tenant rights

This is something that every person renting a property in West Virginia needs to read – the Handbook on Tenants’ Rights. This was put together by the Huntington Human Relations Commission, and goes into great detail about your rights as a tenant.

Some important facts:

  • Your landlord cannot evict you in retaliation for complaining about unfit housing conditions.
  • You have the right to file a civil suit against your landlord to enforce your right to decent housing and to ask for money damages if your rights have been violated.
  • Your landlord must always go through the court to evict you against your will, even if you are behind on your rent.
  • It is unlawful for your landlord to lock you out, shut off your utilities, refuse to make repairs or do other things to evict you without going through the court.
  • It is unlawful for your landlord to seize and impound your personal property as a way of collecting back rent.
  • It is unlawful for your landlord to enter your rental housing at any time whatsoever without your consent, or reasonable notice in advance, except for the purpose of making emergency repairs.
  • It is unlawful for the landlord to refuse to return your damage or security deposit without just cause.

That is only some of the rights listed in the PDF. Seriously, check it out.

– Leann