Ebony Rogers had to tell her six children that Christmas had been canceled this year.
She didn’t know how else to explain why they would receive few gifts and celebrate the holidays in their home after being forced out of 1917 Regina Street last week.
Rogers and his six children – three biological and three adopted after his sister went to jail – have lived with little to no heating for a year. They had to use heaters or the oven to avoid the cold. But those are fire hazards and the main reason city officials recently put a sign on its front door, declaring the rental uninhabitable.
Rogers discovered that there was no gas line to the house after moving in in January, and although UGI installed one, it made little difference. For the radiators to dissipate heat, Rogers said she needs to set the thermostat to 86 degrees. However, this does not provide much comfort in the middle of winter.
There were other major issues as well.
A year’s worth of rain seeped through leaks in the roof, damaging the electricity and causing overhead lighting in the first-floor dining room – where Rogers’ 9-year-old son does his homework – to go to the fritz. Rogers has to hammer the wall to get even a flicker of power.
Months of leaks caused her kitchen floor to collapse just before Thanksgiving. They cooked a holiday meal at home, but since then dirty water from the toilet has dripped from the second floor bathroom into the kitchen. The family were forced to use every towel and even the sheets to soak up the water leaks on all three floors.
A plastic cup, rocks, and bundles of clothes plug the holes in the floor and walls so squirrels and rodents don’t squirm inside. But the family can still hear noises in the walls at night.
Rogers said she regularly had to manually reset her basement boiler. A few months ago, an entrepreneur also discovered a huge squirrel nest inside the machine.
Over the months, he did all she could this year to try to get the leasing agent to sort out the serious issues. She never met the owner. Instead, she signed her lease online and got her key in a safe that stays attached to her front door.
When she couldn’t reach the rental agent this month, she contacted the city’s code office for help.
They were unable to reach the owner, who lists his address as a PO Box in New York and has an alternate address in Georgia. Code officials then reluctantly stuck an “uninhabitable” poster on his front door, giving him 15 days to move out.
“We had no choice but to put up given the concern for the safety of tenants and the creation of a liability issue for the city in the event of misfortune,” said Code Administrator Dave Patton. “This kind of situation is one of the most difficult we face. The possible relocation of occupants is an issue we take very seriously. “
After being ordered to move out, Rogers was unsure of what to do, so she asked for help on Facebook. She used to help others. In fact, she was collecting gifts to give to Toys for Tots when she was forced to leave her home. So some friends started an online fundraiser to raise $ 5,000 to help him.
A Harrisburg-based social services organization focused on addressing homelessness and poverty has put her family in a hotel as Rogers struggles to find a place to move all of their belongings.
With all these troubled days before Christmas, Rogers isn’t sure what kind of celebration she can have with her children, ages 16, 15, 15, 14, 14 and 9 as her money must be used for theirs. find a new place to live. . The application fee alone could cost her as much as $ 300 to $ 400, depending on how many homes she needs to apply for before finding the right match.
The family can stay in their hotel for about 30 days, Rogers said. But she fears losing her day job at Clark Resources, a Harrisburg telephone service company, because she needs the light of day to find a place to live.
Rogers has a second job several nights a week at the Downtown Daily Bread, a Harrisburg homeless shelter, and also runs a children’s art studio across from the Regina Street house. She stored additional supplies in the home’s basement during her tenure, but many were destroyed or damaged by the water leaks, Rogers said.
Her children’s business was regularly booked for city events, but is temporarily closed due to the Rogers housing crisis. She said she had to turn down an annual request from the mayor’s office to organize the city’s New Year’s celebration.
Rogers considered asking for food stamps to temporarily ease some of the financial burden, but said she was told she had to be unemployed to qualify.
On top of all this, Rogers’ car was wrecked over the summer while parked outside his house.
Rogers, 34, had been renting the three-story, five-bedroom home since January after finding an ad on the real estate website, Zillow. She was amazed by its open space, number of bedrooms, and reasonable monthly rent of $ 950.
Dauphin County property records showed Ricardo Brown bought the Regina Street home for $ 18,000 in 2019 after a bank foreclosure. That same year he purchased three more properties in Harrisburg for similar amounts at 1508 Allison Street; 1210 Walnut Street and 1926 Park Street. PennLive could not reach Brown for comment on this story.
When Rogers first visited the Regina Street home, she encountered several other people who were clamoring for the rental. After pleading with the woman who worked for the landlord, she got a 12-month lease and paid the monthly rent online.
“I was like, ‘Why wouldn’t I want to live here? ”Rogers said of his first impression of the house. “I didn’t know they weren’t legitimate. Because of COVID, everything was online. Everyone was virtual.
In the months that followed, Rogers realized glaring issues with the house that the rental agent failed to disclose. A rug had covered the floor of her daughter’s bedroom during the initial visit. This carpet had disappeared during the move in and Rogers was horrified to discover two holes in the woodwork on the floor. She bought a thick rug to cover it up so her daughter wouldn’t fall through. The holes were never repaired, Rogers said, despite his repeated requests.
As difficult as this rental situation was for Rogers, this was not his first.
Before moving to Regina Street, the basement of his old downtown home was inundated with feces, urine and other garbage. She said her owner made countless trips down the basement stairs, carrying buckets of trash that they dumped outside the house.
She is one of the many residents who have struggled in recent years to find suitable accommodation in a tight market that overwhelmingly favors homeowners.
Rogers delayed Codes’ call about the Regina Street house because contractors frequently visited and returned quotes to its owner. She was confident that the owner of the house would not abandon her family as she faithfully paid the rent each month.
At the start of the lease, the landlord sent Rogers $ 100 and a $ 25 Red Lobster gift card to apologize for the lack of heat.
“From that point on, they said they were going to bring people in and do this, come and do that,” she said.
They installed a banister and a ceiling fan, Rogers said, but the major issues have largely remained unresolved.
The contractors who visited his house never returned or did a shoddy job with repairs. Contractors “fixed” spots of black mold in the ceiling by spray painting them, Rogers said.
When officials from the Code Bureau visited the house last week, Rogers said they told him “you have to get out of here.” It’s not sure, it’s not OK.
“Calling Codes is an immediate confrontation with your landlord,” Rogers said. “Yes [the landlord] had any type of heart [he] would have held out his hand to me. There is no way that one person can see these emails and see that the house has been (closed) and not contact me.
Patton said it can be difficult for residents to discover existing problems or prevent some of them.
“Unfortunately, there is no definitive solution that a tenant could do to avoid many problems. The heating systems fail and there is no real way to anticipate a heating system failure, ”Patton said. “However, tenants would be well advised to make sure they visit a property and note the items that need to be fixed before moving in.”
Items that need fixing will often not be fixed and some residents will move in on the basis of promises, “which often doesn’t happen,” Patton said, “and our office needs to be involved. Renters should also contact our office to ensure the property is registered with city codes, as required by law. In the meantime, we will continue all the necessary actions against the owner to avoid the displacement of the tenants. “
Rogers has now learned some of the right questions to ask and flaws to look for, but many residents just aren’t home inspection experts and homeowners have the upper hand with the number of tenants far exceeding the affordable properties available. She now advocates that tenants keep full documentation of all correspondence with rental agents and landlords if issues end up in court.
Although she is grateful for the hotel, Rogers does not know how to feed her children, who have varied nutritional needs, without a suitable stove and refrigerator. Rogers must also consider what items to bring to the hotel and what to leave behind. She made a tearful gesture towards the urn containing her mother’s ashes on the day she moved and said there was no way she could store them.
“This is our house. At least take care of the children who reside,” she said. “This is my concern. I have a house full of children here and it is really, really. unhappy When can I say that life is good for us?
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