Brownsville building owner to be cited for bugs, other problems

| Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, 12:21 a.m.

Brownsville officials will cite the owner of an apartment building that houses low-income elderly and the handicapped for failing to clean up a bedbug infestation that tenants said the landlord has ignored despite their repeated complaints.

Councilman Jim Lawver said residents of the Brownsville Apartments told borough authorities that owner Robert Arthurs of Charleroi has not responded to their complaints about the bugs, the leaking roof or the broken elevator.

Lawver said the building code requires property owners to remedy any insect infestation and correct other problems that fall under the building code.

Arthurs did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

Lisa Wolfe, a spokeswoman for Housing and Urban Development in Philadelphia, said the agency is investigating the complaints.

She said HUD was unaware of the bedbug issue until Wednesday. Bedbugs are parasitic insects that feed on blood. Their bites create itchy welts on the skin.

HUD had been informed of the roof and elevator problems. Wolfe said the agency contacted Arthurs Nov. 15 and asked how he planned to correct them.

“To date, all our requests for information have gone unanswered. Obviously, he needs to address and take care of some things,” Wolfe said.

Lawver said officials from Uniontown Hospital called him two weeks ago and refused to discharge a patient who lives in the building until the problems are corrected. He said the borough fire department has responded to numerous calls for help from elderly and handicapped tenants.

“The fire department gets calls for assistance to help older people down the stairways,” Lawver said.

HUD bases rent on a person's income and sends payment directly to the landlord.

“Tenants have called here and said he will not answer their calls,” Lawver said. “Our code enforcement officer got a call, and Arthurs said he's taking care of it. People call and he'll threaten them with eviction if they complain too much.”

Once the citation is filed, Arthurs has 10 days to respond. Lawver said fines can range from $100 to $1,000.

Lawver said code enforcement officer Ed Nicholson hasn't been able to enter the building to conduct an inspection because Arthurs will not give permission.

“We can't force our way in,” he said.

Brownsville has dealt with previous problems at the century-old apartment building, a former bank.

In December 2010, the building's boiler broke, leaving tenants with no heat. Arthurs distributed space heaters, but repairs on the boiler weren't completed until the following March, Lawver said. HUD regulations require that temperatures in public housing be maintained at least 68 degrees during cold weather. Temperatures were recorded at 57 degrees in 2010.

“We kept citing him, citing him, citing him until he was convicted,” Lawver said.

Arthurs pleaded guilty in 2011 to a charge of failing to maintain a central heating system and was fined $100. District Judge Mike Defino Jr. dismissed 17 other charges.

Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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