- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A western Pennsylvania landlord rented unsafe and uninhabitable apartments, many of them to Bhutanese refugees, and violated state consumer protection laws in the process, the state attorney general said in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

The lawsuit against Davin Gartley, 39, of Mount Lebanon, is the latest legal dispute for the landlord who has been fighting with Pittsburgh building inspectors and Allegheny County Health Department officials for years.

A key claim in the lawsuit stems from a Pittsburgh apartment complex that was condemned last year - forcing about 20 mostly Bhutanese families to be displaced - after frequent problems with water and sewage. The non-Bhutanese tenants were low-income residents or ex-offenders in need of cheap housing, city officials said.

The Health Department inspected the complex after Gartley shut off water service to the 14-unit building because of a leaking line and began “digging trenches and running garden hoses” to supply the apartments with water from neighboring properties he owned, the lawsuit said. Gartley was sent several warnings by the Health Department - and eventually a private criminal complaint - but didn’t fix the problems, the lawsuit said.

Rather, the property got worse, and by March 2014, a broken or clogged line caused sewage to pool in front of the apartment complex. In April, the Health Department issued an emergency order requiring the tenants to leave. The units were re-inspected last May, and violations included failure to remove garbage, raw sewage inside and outside the units, balconies that were in danger of collapsing and rodent infestation, the lawsuit said.

“To date, the units … remain vacant and uninhabitable,” the suit said.

Gartley couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Tuesday. A phone number listed in Gartley’s name is no longer his, and attorneys representing him in other property litigation either no longer represent him or didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

Upendra Dahal, project director of the Bhutanese Community Association of Pittsburgh, said the Bhutanese families that were evacuated have been relocated with the help of the association and other relief and social service agencies.

Betty Cruz, the city’s special initiatives manager, said the Pittsburgh area has 4,000 to 5,000 Bhutanese residents, which is why the city supported the creation of Dahal’s group last year.

Dahal said many Bhutanese leave their Asian homeland because of ethnic cleansing and religious persecution. The city’s Bhutanese population is also growing because of “secondary migration from other cities and states” as Pittsburgh has developed a welcoming reputation, Dahal said.

Gartley is accused of exposing other tenants to lead paint, failing to provide smoke detectors, fire-safe doors, safe decks and balconies, and failing to pay water bills, which has caused service to be shut off at various properties. He also failed to place rental security deposits in escrow accounts and to return them within 30 days after tenants moved out, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified restitution to Gartley’s tenants plus fines under Pennsylvania’s Consumer Protection Law. The fines are $1,000 per violation but can rise to $3,000 each if the affected tenant is 60 or older. The total amount of violations alleged and fines sought is not specified in the lawsuit.

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