Families facing eviction from apartment house

Six families in an apartment house owned by a former City Council candidate are being evicted by the city Friday for the landlord’s alleged defiance of an order to get a building permit – and thus a certificate of occupancy – for renovations.

“I’m up against the wall,” said Gary Kline, who lives in one of the apartments in a building on Seventh Avenue at 23rd Street owned by Wilson Saguban. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

City code officers can cite anyone who remains after Friday, citations that carry fines of $300 to $1,000, fines that can be repeated daily, according to city solicitor Dan Stants.

Kline said he was unaware of the problem until at least Feb. 25, when the city posted a letter on one of the exterior doors of the apartment building, ordering the residents to leave within 10 days.

“It came totally out of left field,” he said.

“Please be advised the City of Altoona does not wish to take this action,” the letter states. “[H]owever, it has become necessary to ensure the safety of all those occupants and members of the public who visit.”

The city first discovered that Saguban had turned a first floor area that used to be his Austin’s Market into apartments without taking out a building permit, when it went to inspect the property in 2012, after Saguban had applied for and received a rental license, Stants said.

At that time, they discovered problems with piping and wiring and things “cobbled together” in the remodeled space and in previously existing apartments upstairs, which were violations of the state’s Uniform Construction Code, which the city enforces, Stants said.

So they revoked his rental license.

Saguban claimed he was exempt from at least some requirements by claiming to be living in the building, but that was untrue, as he lived on Union Avenue, Stants said.

In March 2013, the city obtained an order to vacate the premises under the UCC.

Saguban tried legal maneuvers in Blair County Court, trying to yoke the case with a similar one on another building he owned on 11th Avenue, Stants said.

The city posted an order on the building to vacate in July, an order the residents should have seen, said City Planning Director Lee Slusser.

But Saguban appealed to higher courts, Stants said.

The appeal was rejected, then the case came back to Blair County Court, he said.

The 11th Avenue property was vacated in January.

The city could seek a court order to the Sheriff’s Department to “abate the nuisance,” which would mean deputies could try to compel Saguban to oust the residents, Stants said.

If he failed to comply, the deputies could make sure everyone left, then place padlocks on the doors, he said.

But that won’t happen, Slusser predicted.

It almost happened with the 11th Avenue property, when the court ordered the Sheriff’s Department to make sure the property was vacant, Stants said.

But when deputies went to execute the order, everyone was gone, he said.

Saguban himself actually padlocked the door, he said.

Kline has been looking for a new place, but without success. He’s disabled and wants to find a first-floor apartment, but most of the available places are on upper floors or too expensive.

He’s paying only $450 a month.

Many of the families have pets, which is compounding the problem, said tenant Roy Harpster, who lives with his mother.

His brother lives in another apartment in the building. They’ve been driving around and “calling everywhere.”

“As soon as you mention dog and cat, they say they can’t help you,” he said.

The tenant of a seventh apartment left already but abandoned many of his possessions, including furniture, because he couldn’t afford to pay someone to move the stuff in such a short time, Kline said.

That resident can return and get his belongings, Slusser said, adding that what is happening is “not as dramatic as it sounds.”

The current door posting encourages tenants to “address your concerns with Mr. Saguban as soon as possible.”

“He created this situation,” Stants said.

Saguban is liable for the same kind of citations the tenants are facing, Stants said. He may be out of town currently, but his wife is in town, Stants said.

A phone number the Mirror used to reach Saguban is no longer in service.

No one answered the door at the Saguban house Tuesday afternoon.

“I don’t know about legality, but I think that 10 days’ notice is a little bit stringent,” Kline said. “It’s pretty much a messed-up situation.”

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.