Archived Story

Couple in legal battle with city, landlords

Published 10:01am Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Dispute centers on water disconnection

 

An Ironton couple who went nearly two months without water service has filed a federal lawsuit against their landlords and the city, claiming the water department unjustly disconnected their service and violated its own water service termination polices.

According to the complaint filed by Bellevue, Ky.-based attorney Steven Shane on Feb. 1 in Ohio Southern District Court in Cincinnati, Beth Harper and Anthony Daniels went without running water for 57 days at their rented apartment in the 600 block of North Fifth Street after they, along with other tenants in the building, called the Ironton Health Department and city building inspector to complain of health and code violations.

The lawsuit alleges the owners of the building, Oley Burgess III and James Blankenship of B&B Holdings of KY, LLC, assured the health and building officials the structure would be torn down after being told of “numerous health and building code violations,” after an inspection by the city in early September.

On Oct. 24, the complaint states, the landlords then had the water service to the apartment turned off by “intentionally misinforming” the city water department that Harper, Daniels and three children in the residence no longer lived there. The suit also states the city disconnected service without fulfilling its obligation to ensure no one was living in the residence.

“They are supposed to go,” Shane said, “They are not supposed to take the word of somebody, because that was part of the problem last time.”

Shane represented an Ironton woman 13 years ago who sued the city after her water was shut off without notice for five days because she hadn’t paid the bill of a previous tenant.

The woman dropped the suit after the city agreed to pay her $1,000 plus attorney fees and change its water shut-off polices.

The changes were outlined in a consent decree filed in February 2000 and signed by Shane, Judge Susan Dlott, then-mayor Bob Cleary, city attorney Mack Anderson and attorney Robert Hollingsworth.

Section 5 of the consent decree says, “termination will not occur until the water department employee assigned to perform the termination personally visits each affected service address and verifies that it is vacant.”

Shane said his clients never received a notice that their water would be shut off and that after the water was disconnected, the city had a duty to reconnect the service when Harper and Daniels reported they still lived in the residence.

According to the complaint, Harper and Daniels requested water service to be transferred to their name, but the city said it would not unless the property owner agreed.

“They said only building owners can establish water accounts,” Shane said. “Which is again a violation of the consent decree and a violation of the equal protection clause.”

In December, the building owners filed an action for eviction citing non-payment of rent, but the case was dismissed in Ironton Municipal Court in January because the motion was filed by a non-attorney.

Harper and Daniels contacted Southeastern Ohio Legal Services, which put them in touch with Shane. Water service was reconnected to the apartment on Dec. 20 after their attorney contacted the city, but they have yet to be able to have the water service put in their names.

Shane also said the landlords have filed another eviction notice for non-payment of rent.

Harper said she and her fiancé stopped paying rent because of the unhealthy conditions of the apartment and because she said the health department told her the building was slated to be torn down.

“The landlord mentioned it a few times, but we didn’t think anything of it because he had just mentioned it,” Harper said.

Harper said she and her family had no choice but to keep living in the apartment because they can’t afford to move elsewhere and are on waiting lists of multiple housing assistance agencies.

“We tried every option that is available and we cannot get any help whatsoever in this town,” Harper said. “We’ve got three children. So we pretty much had to stay here or let them sleep out on the streets and take a chance on losing them.”

Mack Anderson, attorney for the City of Ironton, said the city’s insurance agency and its attorneys would be handling the case.

A message left with Leigh Latherow of Ashland, Ky., attorney for the property owners, was not returned by press time.

  • Poor Richard

    First of all this is disturbing for several reasons, one is that the slum lords are from Kentucky (out-of-state), second that the property was in such bad shape that the health department was going to shut it down, and third that children were living at this despicable rental property (one of thousands in this county) operated by out-of-state owners. Wonder if they were turning in collection of the rental money to the IRS??

    In my opinion, the slum lords should be slapped with numerous monetary penalties for violations of health and safety codes along with building codes in the thousands and they should be charged with child endangerment, along with the parents.

    The water is ‘he said, she said’. Next time the city should execute the notice by certified mail and the visit to the property should be videotaped with audio. We have a wealth of technology at our disposal – use it.

    (Report comment)

  • wiseone

    Yes it is an outrage that things like this would go on especially with children involved. I believe that everyone that has seen this needs to take action and call childrens services and report them for their “unhealthly” living conditions and My family and I was concerned ourselves and drove by and the roof is caving in and the windows are busted out and some just covered with boards, junk piled up everywhere and the downstairs looks like it has been burnt or on fire. If anyone wants to look at these conditions go to 600 block of North 5th close to the ballfields and you cant miss it, its on the corner with a big B&B holding sign and a for rent sign on the front of the building.
    We ALL should do what anyone knowing of these conditions failed to do and REPORT it to childrens services the phone number is
    740-532-3324!

    (Report comment)

  • mckale

    each party must follow the letter of the law. landlord and tenant. landlord cant just do what he feels like doing, no matter what his opinion of the situation is, nor can tenants. if the city acted based on landlord information and didnt follow procedure, well tough, they may be sued. what is right and what is the law may be 2 different things. I hope if the law was broken by the city or landlord that these “deadbeats” win their case. The tenants/or city may have a Federal suit on their hands with The Child Endangerment Act. You cant deny children food water or shelter. You better know the law!

    (Report comment)

    • Digi

      Exactly and were the tenants following the law by not paying rent or putting the money in escrow to show good intent when this lawsuit came up? That doesn’t mean that money magically goes into an escrow now. There are a lot of issues to come out here and a lot of things done wrong on all sides. Giving these folks a free ride out of it isn’t part of what the outcome should be. Who was responsible for paying the water bill? If they weren’t paying rent how did they think the water bill was getting paid? Has anyone wondered that? Weren’t they paying other utilities? Were they not in contact with anyone at all during this time? Even the City Mission would have helped them find living arrangements if needed. Only the parents were the ones depriving those children of water, food and shelter during that time. And I can’t believe that people knew they had kids living like that and didn’t report it. Were they still reporting to welfare they were paying rent there and getting food stamps on those expenses they were paying? Isn’t that welfare fraud? If you stop paying rent then you have to report that within 10 days, any time your situation changes you have to report it. Were they using that expense for medical cards? Yes there is a lot of legal issues to look into for this matter indeed.

      (Report comment)

      • wiseone

        I agree with you, and I am a taxpaying citizen and I’m sure they were getting plently of assistance, medical cards, welfare check, foods stamps maybe even child support or ssi for the kids and while they were free loading we were paying for them to still be on welfare and “working the system”.
        I believe that people like this ought to be prosecuted but in good ol’ Lawrence county we see more cases like this than we should.

        (Report comment)

  • swimmingupstream

    And people wonder why there is no new apartment buildings or anything else in Ironton….

    (Report comment)

  • 1 Concerned Citizen

    This is ridiculous!!! Looks like these people just want something for nothing. What DEADBEATS…
    The first thing the Free Legal Aid does is stall for time and try their best to cost the landlord as much money as possible to represent himself that he will settle and give the plaintiff some cash.
    The attorney doesn’t care if the plaintiff is right or wrong they just want the landlord to give their client some cash.
    I had a tenant sue me once for a gas leak in their apartment. Right before we went to court my attorney was taking depositions and when the gas company came in to give their deposition they stated when they went in to inspect the apartment for gas leaks at the tenants request, they found that the gas was turned on, on their stove and they had their pilot light off. The gas man took out a match and lit the pilot light and there were no other problems.
    After spending over $5,000.00 Five Thousand Dollars on legal fees and the tenant staying in an apartment for free for months it was finally over.
    The worse part was that the apartment they were renting from me was a beautiful place and it was their intention when they rented it from me to stay as long as they could for free. They paid their first months rent and their damage deposit to get in the apartment, and not one cent after that. And when I finally had enough and gave them eviction notice suddenly they had a gas leak. THEY WERE DEADBEATS TOO!!!

    (Report comment)

    • mikehaney

      I always felt that the party losing the lawsuit should pay all costs for both sides. This should be determined immediately by the judge.
      Of course lawyers know that frivolous lawsuits are hard to win, but they don’t care as long as they get their money or fame.
      Change will never happen because our judges are all lawyers.

      (Report comment)

  • Digi

    And please, let us not forget too that now they have just given everyone a raise on that nasty river water!

    (Report comment)

  • Ohno

    lets see if regular people don’t pay their water bill it is shut off. But if they are living in their apartment or house don’t pay the rent-supposedly,the city can’t shut it off?? Whats wrong with this scene…..

    And if the building is unfit to live in and they are there with 3 young children where is Childrens Services to place these children in a safe environment???? this is one big mess

    (Report comment)

    • Digi

      Yes it is a big ole mess. And unless they have put that rent money that they say they intentionally withheld into an escrow account they don’t have a leg to stand on in that matter. The only way you can prove you were seriously planning on paying the rent is by using an escrow account, and what are the odds these folks did that? And I agree if they have had these children in filthy living condition why hasn’t children’s services been notified?

      And Mikehaney you know that lawyer is a pro-bono for the publicity and hoping for some big city settlement he can get part of.

      The city never notifies anyone they are cutting off their water, and if you call them about it they tell you they don’t have to notify you that if you read your bill you would know it. They could care less if you have one kid, a disabled adult or ten kids in your house. For them it’s pay the bill or get cut off!

      (Report comment)

  • mikehaney

    Hmmmmm. Wonder where the money for the lawyer is coming from?

    (Report comment)

    • catlover386

      You read a story about a family of five being deprived of water for almost 2 months and having to live in unsanitary, squalid and unsafe conditions and all that comes to mind is where they got the money to sue.

      (Report comment)

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