What are a renter’s rights? 11 Investigates gets answers for local war vet hit with massive fines

PITTSBURGH — A retired Upper St. Clair police lieutenant was charged thousands of dollars in fees and penalties after he had a stroke and had to move out.

His family called Channel 11 for help with the difficult situation that left them at a loss, frustrated and angry.

You can find more resources and information on your rights as a renter by scrolling down to the bottom of this page.

Family in Battle for Renter’s Rights

88-year-old Don Daugherty lived his life serving the community. He was a Korean War veteran who spent 30 years with the Upper St. Clair Police Department, rising to the rank of lieutenant before retiring. Everyone called him “Doc.”

“He couldn’t go into the grocery store without someone yelling ‘Doc!’ And he’s like, ‘Hey!’” said his daughter, Gina Thompson.

Thompson called 11 Investigates for help after her dad had a stroke in March and could no longer live on his own. His apartment complex, Parkside Estates in Canonsburg, refused to let him out of his lease when he had to move into assisted living.

“I was taken aback. He had a stroke. It wasn’t like he decided to move someplace else,” Thompson said.

The Battle Begins

Thompson sent a letter to the apartment manager explaining Don Daugherty had a stroke and needed to live in a nursing home, but the response was not what she expected.

Parkside Estates accepted the letter as notice of termination for the lease, but told the family Don Daugherty would be charged a termination fee equal to three-times his monthly rent, plus another two-months’ rent as 60-days’ notice—a total of five months’ rent, equaling nearly $6000 in penalties and fees.

“It’s wrong. It’s wrong,” Thompson said, shaking her head. “It was just a slap in the face.”

She wanted to appeal to the owner of Parkside Estates, AR Building Company, but the apartment manager wouldn’t give her contact information, instead sending this response:

“Corporate just reviewed your letter and will not be waiving the termination fee or April/May rent for the 60-day notice.”

Thompson and her family were dumbfounded.

“I love him with all my heart and so do his older children, and they’re infuriated that someone could be so callous,” Thompson said, tearing up.

After getting out of the hospital, Don Daugherty moved into Country Meadows Assisted Living in Bridgeville, but his condition continued to get worse. He went in and out of the hospital as he suffered setbacks, all the while his family continued to pay his rent.

The family didn’t know what to do, so they turned to 11 Investigates for help.

“You’re my only hope to keep them from charging this wonderful man, who is lying on his deathbed right now,” Thompson told 11 Investigates.

Renters Do Have Rights

11 Investigates reviewed Don Daugherty’s lease, which does have a clause citing penalties for early termination, but under these circumstances—because he suffered a medical disability—he does have protection under the federal Fair Housing Act.

“Renters do have rights,” Southwestern Pennsylvania Legal Aid Executive Director Brian Gorman told 11 Investigates.

Under the law, landlords must provide a person with a disability a reasonable accommodation.

“Once it’s documented that you have a verifiable disability that requires an accommodation—in this case, your ability to move and no longer pay rent—then it’s the housing providers responsibility to comply with that federal law and make that accommodation,” Gorman explained.

Appealing to the Apartment Complex

With that knowledge, 11 Investigates went to Parkside Estates to try and talk with the apartment manager about the circumstances and the Fair Housing Act, but she had no interest. Instead, almost immediately calling the police.

“I’m going to have to ask you to leave. This is private property,” the apartment manager told us, just a moment after reporter Angie Moreschi said hello, leading to this exchange:

Angie: “We were hoping to talk with somebody.”

Manager: “I can call the police.”

Angie: “Is there somebody we can talk to with your company?”

Just like with Thompson, the manager refused to provide any contact information for their corporate office.

Angie: “Is there a card or somebody I can give my information to, to contact us? You don’t even want the card?”

Manager: (starts to call police) “I have a news crew here on private property...”

Angie: “OK, well, thanks anyway. We really wanted to give you the opportunity to have some comment.”

Parkside Estates’ parent company, AR Building, also owns several other properties and apartment complexes in the Pittsburgh area and around the country. We wanted to find out what their policy is when it comes to people with disabilities.

Tracking Down AR Building

11 Investigates tracked down AR Building Company’s local corporate address in Seven Fields and paid them a visit. A receptionist told us none of the managers were available, but did listen as we explained the situation with Don Daugherty being charged nearly $6000 in penalties and fees at Parkside Estates.

“Given the Fair Housing Act and the fact that he had a disability, (we wanted to know) if that would be waived,” Angie Moreschi explained.

The receptionist took our 11 Investigates card and said she would give the message to her manager.

The Next Day

The very next day, Thompson got an email from the apartment manager.

“Upon further review from corporate, they have agreed to waive the termination fee for Mr. Daugherty. Have a beautiful day,” Thompson said, reading the email off her phone.

Finally, there was some relief for the family, but it was bittersweet. While all this was going on, Don Daugherty passed away.

“I’m very glad that you were involved to help us with this, but it shouldn’t have come to that,” Thompson said. “He left this earth not knowing what was going to happen, but I told him I’d take care of it,” Thompson said. “He fought for this country, and I fought for him.”

She paid one last visit to Parkside Estates to return “Doc’s” keys and get back to remembering her dad.

Your Rights as a Tenant

A tenant lease is a contract, and therefore is binding for both sides, but there are circumstances under which a tenant can break a lease without penalties.

One of the most significant is that landlords must provide safe and habitable property.

“Its condition must sanitary and meet basic standards,” explained Brian Gorman, executive director of Southwestern Pennsylvania Legal Aid. “If the landlord is not doing that, then the tenant should not be responsible for the rental terms of that contract.”

On the other hand, in most cases, you cannot get out of a lease due to financial hardship, like losing your job or having to move to another city. The landlord must, however, make a reasonable effort to re-rent the property, and cannot continue to charge you rent once they do.

Landlords also cannot discriminate against people in several categories, including:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Sex
  • Disability
  • Family status
  • National origin
  • Religion

Here are tenant rights basics from FindLaw.

If you need legal help regarding a Landlord/Tenant dispute, here are several resources that can provide legal aid.