‘Collapse’ displaces 20 residents of condemned Penn Hills rowhouses
Residents of four Penn Hills rowhouses condemned Tuesday because of a ceiling collapse said they will likely spend the holidays searching for permanent housing while their landlord contends with building code citations for failing to maintain the properties.
Authorities evacuated all four units of the connected residential buildings on Torrance Street where eight children and 12 adults were living.
Tiesha Littlejohn said her second-floor bedroom ceiling collapsed with a “thud” during the night and continued to fall through the morning. While waiting for her landlord to arrive, she saw a light on the ceiling spark, so she called 911.
Officials who responded quickly found larger problems. They condemned the structure.
“I’m devastated,” Littlejohn, 31, said. “It’s cold. It’s the holidays. I have to explain this to my 13-year-old son when he comes home from school.”
It is not safe to occupy the building, which has damage to multiple units, said Shawn Snyder, chief of Penn Hills Volunteer Fire Department Station 221.
John McCafferty, director of Penn Hills’ code enforcement office, said the owner of the building, Daniel Guy, was cited for having an unsafe structure and failure to obtain occupancy permits.
“We’ve dealt with (Guy) in the past,” he said. “He’s done the minimal amount of work to get by.”
McCafferty said that his office will require Guy to make major upgrades to the building if he plans to continue renting it.
Guy said he would have felt bad if anyone was hurt and admitted that the building has some issues. But he said that if residents don’t like the building, they can move.
“They can leave,” Guy said. “I’m not gonna live in your house and complain about it and don’t give you no money. I’m gonna leave.”
Guy said he would work with code enforcement officials to make repairs while the houses are empty.
“It’s nice because we can do them all at one time, and that would be a blessing,” he said.
Displaced residents sought refuge from the cold weather at the Lincoln Park Community Center.
Littlejohn said Guy had been in the building less than 24 hours earlier after she called to complain. She said this is not the first time she has expressed concern to him about the stability of the ceiling.
Several residents called the building unlivable, citing roach infestations, leaking ceilings and broken doors.
Resident LaDena Gee, 37, said the Red Cross would put her and her four children up in a hotel until Friday, but she wasn’t sure where she would go from there.
“We may have to look for a shelter,” she said. “I was just astounded. I know all my neighbors had children. We could have been crushed under it with our furniture.”
Gee said she paid $550 a month for her three-bedroom unit.
Displaced resident Mary Woods also had harsh words for the landlord. “Putty, plaster and paint. Those are his fix-alls for everything.”
Woods said she has always paid her rent on time and had called Guy about her ceiling three times.
“Who wants to wake up homeless?” she said.
Kevin Brown, a Red Cross spokesman, said the agency is helping three of the four families affected with food and lodging. That includes six adults and seven children.
Kelsey Shea is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7845 or [email protected].