Break lease? Live with mice? Face eviction? Dayton apartment case hits tough issues

Residents say property owner failed to address health and livability issues; attorney for property manager disagrees

Multiple tenant complaints about a northwest Dayton apartment complex, including one soon-to-be-dismissed eviction case, put a spotlight on a tough local housing issue — when tenant-landlord disputes over conditions reach a breaking point.

Several renters at Rustic Arms in Dayton’s Hillcrest neighborhood should be allowed to end their leases early because of a mouse infestation and other issues with their units, said Destiny Brown, a community organizer with Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE).

One resident has been given permission from the landlord to terminate his lease without penalty, but his neighbors also want similar kinds of deals.

Breaking a lease can be costly and can impact renters’ credit or ability to rent in the future, says Ohio Legal Help, a nonprofit group that publishes self-help legal information online.

Tenants, however, may have a right to end their leases early if there are serious “material problems” with their units that their landlords haven’t fixed after receiving proper notice, Ohio Legal Help says.

Alicia Draines, who is tied to a limited liability company that owns the Rustic Arms apartment property, said she was unaware of any issues at the building and referred questions to the property management company, Agora Property Management.

An attorney for the property management company said it has resolved or has taken steps to resolve issues that tenants raised, but he also said maintenance staff was not granted entry into at least one of the units to complete some of the work being sought.

“I do know from talking with the property management company that every effort has been made to resolve these issues, and most issues — if not all issues — have been resolved,” said Jay Adams, an attorney with CiceroAdams, a Dayton-based law firm. “The timeliness is somewhat dependent on the tenant allowing access to resolve the issues.”

Rustic Arms building

The Dayton Daily News spoke to three people who live in the Rustic Arms apartments at 2333 Rustic Road, south of Hillcrest Avenue and east of Catalpa Drive. The three-story building has about a dozen units, though some are vacant.

Tenants did not want their full names published, citing concerns about their future ability to find housing. This newspaper also talked to staff with ABLE, which has been trying to assist the tenants.

One of the tenants, Mr. Howard, 30, said he moved into the property less than two months ago and sees mice multiple times every day, according to Brown, of ABLE. He also said his hot water and sinks did not work until they were repaired very recently, and his stove is still not working correctly.

Howard said these conditions led him to withhold June’s rent. He said his landlord then filed for eviction.

Howard was scheduled to appear in Dayton Municipal Court on Friday for an eviction hearing. But before the hearing, an attorney for the plaintiff accepted an offer to allow Howard to get out of his lease without penalty and provide time for him to move without additional rent payments, said Sarah Weber, an attorney with ABLE.

Howard also will have an opportunity to get his deposit back without the conditions of the unit being used against him, Weber said.

Howard said the landlord failed to disclose that the building had a rodent problem when he signed his lease, according to Brown, and that the landlord has only made “Band-Aid” fixes to the units that didn’t meaningfully address the pest problem.

Weber said she is concerned that Howard may have some difficulty finding a new place when he has an eviction filing on his record — even though the case is ending in a dismissal.

She said she would like to see his and other people’s eviction filing records sealed. She also said his case highlights that Dayton has issues with the conditions and quality of some of its housing.

Adams, the attorney for the property management company, told this newspaper that maintenance staff tried to fix some issues that were raised, but they were not allowed into the unit right away.

Adams said problems with the sinks and stove have been remedied, and pest control was sent to the property to try to address complaints about mice. He said tenants sometimes make complaints about the conditions of their units when they can’t or do not want to pay rent.

“When it comes to things like pests or things of that variety, I know that this particular property management company is diligent about going out and taking care of those issues,” said Adams, who also said the property management company cannot take actions that cost money without the approval of ownership.

Rodents are a common problem in residential properties across the region. Mice are difficult to get rid of because they can fit through very small cracks or holes, according to pest control experts. House mice breed quickly, and mouse traps can be ineffective at eliminating entire mice populations.

Howard’s 35-year-old brother also lives in Rustic Arms, and he and his next door neighbor also want to move out but they fear the consequences of breaking their leases, Brown said.

“All the tenants there had all of the same issues,” Brown said. “Their goal is to be let out of their lease without penalty. ... They also think it shouldn’t be re-rented. They shared they think the building should be condemned or closed for repairs.”

Brown said tenants shared photographs and videos with her of mice in their units and vermin caught in glue traps.

Howard’s brother also said he’s found live and dead mice in his drawers, under his furniture and even in the refrigerator, according to Brown, who said these are not healthy conditions for the tenants or their children.

Brown said ABLE will try to help out the tenants. She also said there are many apartment units across the Dayton community that have similar kinds of underlying issues.

Weber said many tenants whose have serious problems with their conditions often do not know their rights or do not have legal counsel when they go to court to fight eviction and their landlords, while landlords and property managers typically have attorneys.

Joe Maskovyak, an attorney and the coordinator for affordable and fair housing for the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, said when tenants break their leases, the landlords almost always report them to a credit reporting company and sometimes to a debt collector.

Tenants can terminate their leases early if the landlords fail to fulfill their obligations under the lease or law, which usually boils down to conditions, Maskovyak said.

Maskovyak said a significant pest problem could be sufficient reason to terminate a lease early.

Montgomery County Auditor records indicate the Rustic Arms property belongs to M & J Legacy Rentals, which is associated with A&A Legacy Rentals LLC. The company has a Tipp City mailing address.

A&A Legacy Rentals was incorporated by Alicia Draines, whose name also is mentioned in the articles of organization for M & J. She also is the listed statutory agent for Freedom for Living Property Management.

Freedom for Living Property Management was kicked out of the Section 8 housing voucher program for fraud a couple of years ago.

Draines’ husband, Antoine Draines, was convicted of federal charges after filing false applications for more than $150,000 in government funds. His sentencing is this week.

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