A Morgantown Police Department investigation into allegations of abuse at Friendship Manor found it was just a communication problem.
Not everyone agrees.
Amanda Nichols, whose mother-in-law lives in Friendship Manor, alleged that the Morgantown Kiwanis, landlords of the Van Voorhis Road apartment complex, locked the building down because of COVID-19. She said tenants were not allowed to leave their apartments and anyone who did was required to quarantine for 14 days.
The Morgantown Police Department started an investigation after The Dominion Post asked if they’d received any complaints from tenants about the legality of the alleged actions.
“Officer (sic) with the MPD followed up on the situation and it ended up being a communication problem between the property manager and the residents,” Morgantown Communications Director Andrew Stacy said in an email. “That issue has been resolved and everyone is satisfied. It definitely was not a situation where the management was not allowing people to come and go.”
“Oh, there’s no misunderstanding whatsoever,” Nichols said, noting that police did not talk to her mother-in-law.
Executive Director for West Virginia Senior Legal Aid Cathy McConnell was contacted by a few Friendship Manor tenants and agreed with Nichols.
She said the phrasing of the various notices sent to tenants made them feel “under siege.” No one would want to take steps that might get them evicted or retaliated against by management, especially not now in the middle of the pandemic.
“I think it’s a form of false imprisonment for many of those folks,” McConnell said.
She said one woman who left her home was so worried about facing a forced 14-day quarantine in her apartment that she stayed with family for a few weeks so she could continue to go places — including doctor appointments.
That woman returned home recently after the restrictions were relaxed, which McConnell thinks happened because of media attention and investigations by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Delegate Danielle Walker.
Friendship Manor is Department of Housing and Urban Development designated section 202 housing, meaning it rents to people 62 and older but it doesn’t provide any kind of medical services and holds no licenses, McConnell said.
That means Friendship Manor residents are in a normal landlord/tenant relationship and landlords have no right to restrict a tenant’s movements. A landlord’s ownership of your home or a public health emergency does not give them that right, McConnell said.
“When you pay rent, that’s your home and you are free to live in that home and come and go as you please,” McConnell said. “No matter what your lease says or what your landlord says, you are in control of your unit. That’s your home.”
Nichols said management was not letting people drop items off or visit, including a hospice nurse who also works at Sundale.
She said she contacted McConnell and the West Virginia Attorney General because she knew it was illegal and was worried both about the mental health of the residents and out of a fear someone would die from a lack of medical treatment.
Nichols said she is worried about the building’s management retaliating against her mother-in-law because she’s speaking out.
Asked if his office was looking into the allegations, Morrisey said this: “While we can’t comment on any specific investigation, we want to make sure that we let people know that we are urging all landlords and tenants to act reasonably during this time. We want to make sure we emphasize personal accountability — that people should pay their bills when they can — but folks also have to act reasonably. It’s also important that the powers within these dwellings, you can’t just shut everything down. You can’t put quarantines in place. The law has to be respected at all times.”
McConnell said the tenants deserve some kind of compensation for what they’ve gone through, but litigation is a last resort.
Any West Virginian 60 or older can call West Virginia Senior Legal Aid for free to talk about landlord/tenant issues or any other civil legal issue at 800-229-5068.
Members of the Morgantown Kiwani’s did not return calls seeking comment.