Unlawful Leasing: Defective Homes and Retaliatory Behavior, Father-Son Landlords Under Restraining Order

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PENNSYLVANIA — Attorney General Michelle Henry announced a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Fayette County Common Pleas Court against property owners, Joseph F. John and his son Joseph F. John II, for their alleged illegal treatment of tenants or consumers with “rent to own” agreements at more than 50 homes in Greene and Fayette counties.

According to the Office of Attorney General’s lawsuit, the homes are in disrepair, often with missing pipes and appliances, leaking and damaged roofs and windows, insect infestations, and malfunctioning plumbing, among other problems. The Johns lease homes that are not habitable and “rent to own” homes to consumers without a full disclosure of any defects in the homes.

The Johns also charge unlawful late fees and charge “rent to own” consumers unlawful interest rates and late fees. All consumers are required to pay in cash in person. Some tenants are harassed or intimidated upon making payments at the father’s home.

“These landlords target low-income tenants and subject them to illegal fees and terms, while also requiring consumers to pay cash in person, oftentimes under harassing circumstances,” Attorney General Henry said. “Every Pennsylvanian has the right to safe, secure, and comfortable living conditions, and my office will not tolerate landlords who prey on vulnerable residents.”

During some in-person transactions, the father subjects female tenants to lewd and unlawful sexual comments and advances, all in violation of the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.

The complaint also alleges that the Johns push the obligations to maintain habitability of rental homes onto their tenants, and refuse to return security deposits and tenant’s personal property, in violation of the Landlord Tenant Act and the Consumer Protection Law.

Finally, the complaint alleges that Joseph F. John’s “rent to own” transactions include unlawfully high interest rates that violate the Loan Interest and Protection Law and other applicable laws.

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Today the Court granted Attorney General Henry’s request for an ex parte preliminary injunction to protect consumers currently living in defendants’ homes from potential harm by 1) permitting consumers to pay by check or money order sent by mail to Joseph John’s home instead of being required to pay in person; 2) prohibiting the defendants from entering any leased or rent-to-own properties without prior express consent of the occupants (except in case of emergency); and 3) prohibiting the defendants from beginning eviction proceedings without prior court approval. A hearing has been scheduled for September 18 at 3 PM to determine whether the preliminary injunction will be continued until the final disposition of the case.

The Office of Attorney General is seeking restitution for tenants, as well as costs and civil penalties. The Office is also seeking a permanent injunction that would prohibit the Johns from engaging in any installment land contracts, residential leases, or options to purchase residential properties or similar transactions in Pennsylvania, except in accordance with court-ordered conditions.

This lawsuit seeks to promote a more fair, safe, and lawful situation for tenants who rent from the defendants, and to put consumers who are in “rent to own” contracts with Joseph F. John on a clear and lawful path to home ownership.

If you believe you have been victimized by Joseph F. John or Joseph F. John II, you can file a complaint online at www.attorneygeneral.gov, call 800-441-2555 or email scams@attorneygeneral.gov.

This lawsuit was filed by Senior Deputy Attorney General Susan Apel.

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