Investigation: ‘Horrific’ apartment latest in string of problem properties

Property manager denies allegations, says he invests in and improves properties.

A company that recently owned a Dayton apartment building where residents fled unsafe conditions has owned other properties that had maintenance problems, including another Dayton building where bricks fell off the facade, and has connections to a Milwaukee landlord whose rental units allegedly had thousands of code violations, a Dayton Daily News investigation found.

On May 25, the city took the unusual step of working with St. Vincent de Paul to provide temporary housing to many of the residents of an 18-unit apartment building at 1119 Linda Vista Ave. — including 20 children — because of what city leaders described as horrific conditions. Sewage reportedly filled a basement and streamed into the street, and some residents had their utilities shut off.

Moonstone Property Investment LLC sold the apartment building June 17, according to Montgomery County Auditor’s Office records. Elijah M. Rashaed, whose wife is a managing member of Moonstone Investments LLC and who said he managed the property, said the building had actually been sold days before the sewage problem and that sale likely contributed to the sewage back-up.

The new owner failed to transfer utilities right away, causing a pump to lose power and sewage to back up, Elijah Rashaed said. The new owner, Linda Vista Apartments LLC, didn’t provide comment by deadline, and its property management company did not return multiple emails and voicemails seeking comment.

The Dayton Daily News reviewed hundreds of real estate, financial and court records, and interviewed Dayton and Milwaukee officials, tenants, Elijah Rashaed and his attorneys. Our investigation found:

  • Dayton’s Human Relations Council has launched three formal investigations into alleged discrimination against Moonstone Property Investment LLC. Elijah Rashaed said the discrimination complaints are unfounded and the company should be exonerated of any wrongdoing.
  • Steven Gondol, Dayton’s deputy director of planning and community development, said the Linda Vista property had problems that existed prior to its sale. Multiple residents at the Linda Vista Avenue apartments told the Dayton Daily News their units have had ongoing problems with mold, pests and faulty or nonworking fixtures, plumbing, lighting, electrical outlets or other mechanical systems. Elijah Rashaed denied those claims and said Moonstone isn’t responsible for the sewage back up in May.
  • Limited liability companies connected to Michelle Rashaed own several local rental properties, some of which also have had warnings or citations from the city.
  • The city of Milwaukee alleged in a lawsuit that it issued more than 3,100 orders to properties belonging to Elijah Rashaed to correct more than 12,800 city code violations. The Wisconsin city sued Elijah Rashaed and sought to transfer his rental properties to a property manager, alleging his many code violations created a public nuisance. That case was settled. Elijah Rashaed and his attorney said the city didn’t prove any of its claims, his properties were returned and many of the allegations were bogus.

Rashaed said he has been portrayed as a monster but he has made significant investments to provide quality housing.

“If I’m this great demon, I should be exposed,” he said. “But if I’m not who I’m being made out to be, I should be equally exposed as being the good person that I am.”

Linda Vista apartments

Moonstone Investments LLC bought the Linda Vista property in July 2018 and then transferred it the following year to Moonstone Property Investment LLC, according to Montgomery County Real Estate records.

Michelle Rashaed is listed as the authorized managing member of Moonstone Investments LLC, according to mortgage documents filed with the Montgomery County Recorder’s office. Elijah Rashaed is listed as a member of Moonstone Investments LLC in Dayton Municipal Court documents related to a now-dismissed housing and zoning case about a property at 1124 Salem Ave.

Moonstone Property Investment LLC has a mailing address in West Palm Beach, Florida, that’s owned by Michelle Rashaed, according to Florida property records.

Elijah Rashaed said his wife controls limited liability companies that own properties across Ohio, including in Dayton. He said he is a manager.

Attorney Joseph Lucas said his client Moonstone Property Investment had already sold and transferred ownership of the Linda Vista Avenue apartment building when the problems arose in May.

He provided the Dayton Daily News with an unsigned settlement statement for the Linda Vista Avenue property dated May 12. Lucas said the property actually sold May 17 and was transferred to the new owner at closing.

A company called Linda Vista Apartments LLC paid $715,000 for the apartments June 17, Montgomery County Auditor records show.

The settlement statement says Abdullahi Shongolo is the managing member of the purchasing company, and Shongolo is listed as a statutory agent of Linda Vista Apartments LLC in state business records. Attempts to reach Shongolo were unsuccessful.

Lucas said his client has no direct knowledge of what took place at the building after it was transferred. However, he said utility service was transferred out of his client’s name after the closing, which is typical.

“There may have been an interruption in utility service while the new owner obtained service in their name,” he said. “My client does not have any knowledge of an existing sewer back-up issue, as this occurred after the sale date.”

Resident complaints and discrimination investigation

Multiple residents at the Linda Vista Avenue apartments told the Dayton Daily News their landlord and property manager ignored repair requests or made insufficient fixes.

“We called and complained and complained and complained and no one ever did anything,” said Dawn Manz, who lives in the apartment building with her three children.

Last month, the Dayton Human Relations Council approved filing a race discrimination complaint against Moonstone Investment Property LLC.

The board can file a discrimination complaint when it has reason to believe alleged misconduct has taken place due to the race of the tenants or the racial composition of the area where the property is located, HRC officials say.

The investigation will focus on potential disparities between the 1119 Linda Vista Ave. property in northwest Dayton and a property Moonstone Property Investment owns at 1721 Radio Road in East Dayton, HRC staff said.

The Human Relations Council also launched two other formal investigations into potential discrimination that occurred at the apartment building, said Joann Wright Mawasha, assistant executive director of the council.

The complaints were made by a couple of residents against Moonstone Property Investment and its property management company BWB Real Estate Management LLC, she said.

She said the investigations are open and ongoing and the council cannot comment on their status. But the Human Relations Council hopes to have a final investigation report completed and issued about 100 days after the complaint was signed, staff said.

If the Human Relations Council board finds cause to believe discrimination occurred, a hearing will be held to determine liability, damages and civil penalties, staff said.

Moonstone denies discrimination claims

Lucas called it a stretch to compare the conditions of the properties at 1119 Linda Vista Ave. and 1721 Radio Road to build a fair housing claim.

He said the Linda Vista property was constructed 15 years earlier, in 1949, and the properties have different styles of construction and heating systems.

“My client purchased the 1119 Linda Vista property when it was more than 50% vacant and spent considerable sums to bring the building back into good condition,” Lucas said.

His client never had a fair housing complaint at the Linda Vista property during nearly three years of ownership, the attorney said.

“My client is African American and is very conscientious about adhering to the letter and spirit of the fair housing laws,” he said.

Elijah Rashaed said the allegations in the discrimination complaints are not true. He said residents would have lodged complaints before now if their units were in such bad shape and work and repair requests were ignored.

“Look into the paperwork — the paperwork don’t lie,” he said. “The city doesn’t have any complaints. None. Zero. Zilch.”

Before this, Moonstone Property Investment, Moonstone Investments and BWB Real Estate Management didn’t have any formal Human Relations Council complaints filed against them, according to council case records dating back to 2012.

Elijah Rashaed said people look for a scapegoat when bad things happen, but Moonstone was not responsible for the utilities being shut off and the sewer backing up.

Elijah Rashaed said the apartment building was in rough condition when Moonstone acquired it, but the company made major investments and the units were in decent shape when the property was sold.

“We redid all the units,” he said. “We made the whole place habitable ... we spent tens of thousands of dollars getting the place together.”

Gondol, the city’s deputy director of planning and community development, said the new ownership and property management company have been working diligently to address problems at the apartment building.

An email from First Realty Group sent last month to city staff said they were working to install new valves on a gas stove line and new smoke and gas detectors, and an electrician was going to check on switches and outlets.

Other properties, issues

Gondol said other properties Moonstone owns have had housing inspection warnings, citations or legal orders in recent years, including an apartment building at 1124 Salem Ave. Hundreds of bricks and other pieces of facade fell off the side of the apartment building in summer of 2019.

On June 30, a third-degree misdemeanor housing case against Moonstone Investments was dismissed after the issues at the Salem Avenue property were fully abated and court costs were paid. Elijah Rashaed appeared in court on behalf of the company, which purchased that property in May 2018, according to auditor records.

The bricks and veneer fell off due to long-running issues that predated Moonstone’s real estate purchase, Elijah Rashaed said, and repairs took time because brick specialists had to be brought in from St. Louis.

Moonstone Property Investment and other LLCs linked to Michelle Rashaed have purchased a variety of residential properties in Dayton in the past four years, according to a Dayton Daily News review of real estate and court records.

In mid-2018, Moonstone Property Investment also purchased properties at 101 Ridge Ave.; 2125 N. Main St. and 1124 Salem Ave.

BWB Property, with a listed address matching Michelle Rashaed’s West Palm Beach property, purchased local rental properties in mid-2017 and early 2018, including one in the 4800 block of Philadelphia Drive and another on the 4300 block of Fair Oaks Road.

Companies linked to Michelle Rashaed also purchased properties on Richmond Avenue; Linden Avenue; Huffman Avenue; Sander Court; Ferndale Avenue; Delaware Avenue; and Grand Avenue.

Milwaukee dispute

Companies connected to Michelle Rashaed started acquiring properties in Dayton the same year that Elijah Rashaed was sued by Milwaukee.

In August 2017, Milwaukee filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to block him and his businesses from acquiring, conveying and managing residential property in Milwaukee County, except possibly with court approval. Milwaukee’s complaint alleged Elijah Rashaed maintained a public nuisance by failing to demolish or repair dilapidated buildings, failing to correct municipal building code violations and using limited liability companies for fraudulent purposes.

The city asked the court to appoint a receiver to manage his large portfolio of properties and fix nuisance conditions.

Then-Milwaukee assistant city attorney Kail Decker said Elijah Rashaed’s rental business targeted the most vulnerable Milwaukee residents.

Decker, who now works as the city attorney of West Allis, Wisconsin, told the Dayton Daily News that Elijah Rashaed charged residents exorbitant rents and fees and he was responsible for them living in poor conditions, often while ignoring state laws and local ordinances.

Elijah Rashaed used numerous LLCs and entities to transfer ownership of his properties around to avoid liability, Decker said.

“When his tenants successfully sued him or the city got forfeitures against his companies, he made sure the defendant entity that was sued had no assets and was uncollectible,” Decker said. “Then, when anyone else stood up to him, he would personally sue the attorneys who were trying to hold him accountable.”

A judge in March 2018 ordered that Elijah Rashaed turn over about 166 properties to a court-appointed property manager, according to court records. The lawsuit was later settled, and Elijah Rashaed’s properties were returned.

“You can allege anything you want in a lawsuit, but they didn’t prove anything,” said David Halbrooks, Elijah Rashaed’s attorney. “They eventually gave up on the lawsuit and turned the properties back over.”

Decker ran for higher office, and the lawsuit was politically motivated and prejudiced because the city only went after landlords who were people of color, Halbrooks said.

Many alleged violations had already been fixed by the time the lawsuit was filed, Halbrooks said, and many others were fictitious.

“Ultimately by the time when the court was reviewing whether to appoint a property manager, I believe we were down to about 17 houses with building code violations,” he said.

Milwaukee is one of the most segregated cities in the nation, and Elijah Rashaed said the city’s lawsuit was racist.

Rashaed said he’s become a successful entrepreneur through hard work and smart decisions, but he’s still been treated unfairly.

“If I was white ... I would be praised as the American dream,” said Rashaed, who said he grew up so poor that he sometimes had to feed his siblings with food dug out of a trash can. “Being a Black man, doing the same job as a white person, I am an American nightmare.”

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