By John Shumway

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — They chanted on the steps of the Pittsburgh City County building.

“What do we want?”
“More time!”
“When do we want it?”
“Right now!”

Community activists gathered around residents of the Valmar Gardens Apartments in Penn Hills.

penn hills apartment protest Water Will Stay On At Penn Hills Apartment Complex With Absent Landlord

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

When their landlord failed to respond to code updates from Penn Hills, the water to the complex was turned off and everyone ordered to move within a week. Judge Don Walko stepped in late last week and stayed that order, had the water and electricity turned back on, and set a hearing for Monday.

Since the ownership of the apartment building changed hands in January, the complex has been in turmoil. The new owners failed to respond to the Allegheny County Housing Authority about entering an agreement to accept Section 8 housing residents.

So in March, the ACHA started helping those residents to move out. The landlord’s absenteeism has resulted in garbage going uncollected at one point, the lack of occupancy permits for any of the apartments, and more recently, the water and then electric being shut off. About two-thirds of the residents have moved out, but the remaining tenants rose up together when the “move out” order came.

When the hearing was set to convene Monday to decide whether the water would remain on, Judge Walko called the attorneys into his chamber to hash things out.

When they emerged, Craig Alexander, who represents the Water Authority and Penn Hills, said, “We’re giving the residents more time. They have through Jan. 15, 2019, to make payment arrangements, get new leases, whatever they can do in order to continue service. If nothing happens, the water can be turned off Jan. 16 and Penn Hills can reissue the vacate order without any further notice.”

In the meantime, the water stays on, which is all resident Lisa King wanted to hear.

“I believe justice has been served and we now have a chance to be there and to make it a better place,” she said.

But Geraldine Barnes says the landlord told her a month ago he wants everyone out and will do whatever he needs to do to make that happen. So while others may stay, Barnes says she will not.

“I’m moving out Oct. 1 because the place is deplorable. It’s not livable,” she said.

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Attorney Alexander says there are two entities laying claim to ownership of the Valmar Gardens Apartments: one that bought it for $1,000, the other that purchased it at a Sheriff’s sale.

Some residents have not paid rent in a couple of months because they don’t know where the money should go.

The tenants council has agreed to take on the water bills as a group to keep it flowing until January. The water authority says even if they don’t, the water will flow till January and if needed, a lien will be placed on the property.

There are no outstanding water bills. The water was cut off due to the landlord not responding to the need to install “backflow monitors.”