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MATTINGLY v. ELIAS

April 21, 1971

Carol MATTINGLY, Individually, and her minor children, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Gabriel ELIAS and Bella Angel, Defendants


Higginbotham, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: HIGGINBOTHAM

I. INTRODUCTION.

 The present action was instituted by certain tenants *fn1" of Warminster Heights, a housing project owned and operated by the individual and corporate defendants in Warminster Township, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. *fn2" Claiming that the degree of past and present Federal and state assistance to this project, as well as its essential public character, require that the defendants' conduct be measured by standards applicable to a government landlord, the plaintiffs have sought to found their action on 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 1985 and 28 U.S.C. § 1343. *fn3" The plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment that the thirty (30) day lease which tenants of Warminster Heights are required to sign is unconscionable and void; a declaratory judgment that a warranty of habitability should be implied in any lease agreement between the tenants and defendants; and an injunction against the alleged retaliatory eviction of tenants for reporting housing code violations, seeking legal counsel and engaging in organizational activities. The answer to the complaint has challenged the propriety of jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. *fn4" To resolve the basic questions of jurisdiction in the present action, the factual background of this case should first be briefly sketched.

 The defendants own and operate a housing project in Warminster Township which was constructed by the Federal Government in 1942 to provide housing for defense workers. *fn5" In 1957 the project was sold by the United States Government to the defendants. As part of the financing of this sale, the Federal National Mortgage Association provided a mortgage which has a present balance of $1,500,000. Since its construction, and particularly since its acquisition by the defendants, the Warminster Heights project has provided housing for low and medium income families. At present, the project has approximately 1,000 family dwelling units with about 50 vacant and uninhabitable units and a total residential population of approximately 5,000.

 All tenants execute a lease with a term of thirty days. In addition to abiding by the terms of the lease, the tenants are required to comply with certain rules and regulations promulgated from time to time by the landlord. The landlord supplies electricity to tenants which is purchased at bulk rates from the Philadelphia Electric Company by a separate corporation controlled by the landlord.

 The landlord from time to time avails himself of the eviction procedures provided by the Landlord and Tenant Act. *fn6" According to this procedure, after the landlord files a complaint, a hearing is held before the district justice and an order of possession is issued thereafter if judgment is entered for the landlord. *fn7" It is alleged that the local municipal police assist the landlord in effecting the eviction of a tenant. Depositions indicate that on three occasions in the last 13 years, the landlord has called upon the local police for this purpose. *fn8" The defendants contend that in these instances, the function of the police has been to maintain order in the event that force would be necessary to regain possession of the leased premises. In none of the instances where the police were present was force necessary. The plaintiffs also aver that the local police patrol the project. The defendants assert that the purpose of the patrolling is to maintain peace and quiet in the project and that the defendants are entitled to such protection as property owners and taxpayers.

 I think that a fair landlord owes his tenants a management policy more sensitive than that evidenced by the past conduct of the defendants. Yet, the Federal Courts are not the forum for eradicating all acts of injustice to the poor, the deprived and the weak. Despite the substantial and just grievances which the tenants of Warminster Heights can point to as part of their daily experience, this Court does not have the appropriate federal jurisdictional power to grant relief to them.

 II. CONDITIONS AT WARMINSTER HEIGHTS

 The record indicates numerous instances where the obligations accepted by the defendants in this mortgage agreement have not been fulfilled. These violations include either prolonged delay in repairing or complete failure to correct serious defects in the plumbing, the structure of the buildings and the operation of essential appliances. The following examples illustrate the failures and inadequacies in the repair of the dwelling units and the maintenance of the premises of Warminster Heights.

 Richard Deasey, a reporter for a Bucks County newspaper, rented a unit at Warminster Heights in order to gain some direct exposure to the conditions about which tenants had complained, and testified to the following defects in the condition of his apartment. He found the roof of the living room caving in, several inches of curdled milk in the refrigerator, the oven unit of the stove "all rusted and broken", the bedroom ceiling collapsing and leaking with mold forming around the point of the leak. He found a part of the toilet on the bathroom floor and the bathroom sink "partly falling off the wall." He described the general condition of the bathroom as "filthy." (Tr. July 14, 1970, pp. 21-22.) The wiring in the boiler room of his apartment was exposed, and there was water on the floor. There was a hole approximately five feet square above the boiler which went through to the roof. One of the doors to the adjoining coal bin did not fit tightly, and during the winter months cold air seeped into the apartment. *fn9" Although he complained on numerous occasions, asking for adequate repairs to be made, Mr. Deasey testified that the oven was never fixed and, therefore, he was never able to cook in his apartment. Also, when the toilet was flushed, it leaked at its base over the bathroom floor. Although he "complained constantly" the toilet was "never repaired." *fn10"

 Anna Jaggers, who has resided at Warminster Heights for four years with her husband and seven children, testified that a workman of the landlord installed a new toilet for her apartment but broke the toilet in the process of installation. *fn11" Although the toilet did not function properly, she was still charged $15.00 for its installation. When Mrs. Jaggers first moved into her apartment, the walls were broken in her upstairs bedroom. The cement steps of her apartment wash away each time it rains. A window which Mrs. Jaggers had frequently asked to have repaired fell down on her left wrist, requiring treatment at a hospital. The window still had not been fixed at the time of her testimony. *fn12"

 Mrs. Shirley Daniels signed a lease for an apartment at Warminster Heights, and paid rent for March, April and May of 1970, but because the broken toilet in the apartment was never fixed, she and her children never slept overnight at the apartment. *fn13"

 Laura Hamel, a resident of Warminster Heights since 1967, testified that her hot water heater did not work for the first five months that she lived in the apartment. Although she complained, often as frequently as once a day, these complaints did not lead to the prompt repair of the defective unit. *fn14" Her oven also did not work for a period of five months and was finally fixed by a ...


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