105 lawsuits

Two days after moving into her house in State College in August 2021, Penn State student Sally, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from her landlord, walked into her roommate’s bedroom after hearing a rushing sound.

The ceiling had collapsed, and the bedroom was flooded with rainwater that “poured” down, Sally said.

When her roommates Mary and Katie, other Penn State students who wished to remain anonymous, moved into their apartment, the three attempted to contact the local real estate agency from whom they rented their apartment, Hendricks Investments. They said it was “impossible” to get ahold of the management company, operated by landlord Rodney Hendricks, over the phone.

Sally, Mary and Katie said they ended up going to the office in person — where they were told if they took legal action against Hendricks, they would need to “pay for his lawyer,” based on the lease agreement they signed.

Within the first week of living in their house, Sally said they noticed a myriad of different habitability issues — the ceiling caved in, the windows weren’t insulated, the basement was flooded, the spray-painted male genitals on their walls weren’t covered up and others.

“The place was a f—ing pigsty,” Sally said. “It was so disgusting.”

Sally was the first of the three roommates to arrive at the property, and she said that because the dishwasher was running when she arrived, she believes Hendricks’ workers would have observed the mess prior to their move-in.

Mary, Sally and Katie aren’t the only tenants who have had trouble with Hendricks and his properties. According to the Centre County Prothonotary’s Office, Hendricks has 105 total records associated with his name and Hendricks Investments — 67 naming him the defendant, 38 naming him the plaintiff – spanning two decades.

Mold, sewer water, and respiratory illnesses

When Sally moved in, she noticed mold in their fridge, above the showers and in the sink. “We were coughing and sniffling for months,” Sally said. “When they finally took the mold out, we were fine.”

Dylan, another current tenant of Hendrick’s Investments who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, said the house he lives in has many issues, and he and his roommates believe it should be “leveled.” Dylan’s concerns range from blown out circuits and deafening radiators to infestations of mold. 

In 2001, eight Penn State students developed health issues and moved out of their Hendricks’ house before their lease agreement end date. According to The Daily Collegian archives, they’d discovered untreated leaks in their house and basement, leading to water damage and mold growth throughout the house. The issues were “preexisting and persisting” while they lived there, the students said — a pattern that exists across several court cases involving Hendricks.

Hendricks sued the eight student tenants for breaking their leases.

Five years earlier, tenants Connor Curry and Ryan Bramble charged Hendricks after developing a “nagging cough and sore throats,” which they “believed to be due to the conditions in the basement living quarters,” according to court documents.  Curry and Bramble said they noticed a “mildew smell,” insects and sewer water flooding the basement. According to court documents, the basement had “flooded with one to two inches of sewer water”.

In 2009, tenant Alexander Morgan filed a civil suit against Hendricks since he “refused to remedy the mold problem,” after making several complaints regarding an apartment contaminated with mold and mildew. According to court documents, Morgan had chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder — an inflammatory lung disease that made it harder for him to breathe — and the disorder could be exacerbated by mold.

After attempting to charge Hendricks on his breach of contract and the breach of implied warranty of habitability, Morgan died on Nov. 6, 2009 — a month after filing the lawsuit, according to the coroner’s report.  The cause of Morgan’s death was severe respiratory depression and hypotension, along with morphine toxicity.

The Centre County coroner ruled his death an accident.

The cost of broken agreements

In January 2005, court documents said 10 Penn State students sued Hendricks for withholding their security deposit, as well as conversion and violation of the Landlord Tenant Act — another pattern found within the court documents of Hendricks’ cases.

The Landlord Tenant Act requires landlords to provide a tenant with a written list of damages the landlord claims the tenant is responsible for and the cost will be withheld from their security deposit within 30 days of the lease’s end date.

The total security deposit amount Hendricks “refused to return” to the 10 students was $3,460, according to court documents.

Beyond allegations and court cases related to tenant issues, Hendricks has a history of unsuccessful business agreements. In 1997, Penn State sued Hendrick’s company, a subcontractor for RNR Construction Company, for work described in the court documents as “negligent” and “careless,” and it “provided poor, improper and defective workmanship.” In a similar subcontracting arrangement, according to court documents, the work completed by Hendricks’ team allegedly caused the State College Borough building’s roof to leak. The lawsuits were seeking $1,268.36 and $5,806.26, respectively.

In 2007, The Daily Collegian – the paper publishing this investigation— filed a lawsuit against Hendricks after he stopped paying for the three months of advertisements he ordered. According to court documents, Hendricks “failed and [refused] to pay the $3,650.30” he owed. In 2010, Hendricks faced an additional lawsuit from Sovereign Bank — now known as Santander Bank — after neglecting to pay an $832,000 loan he had taken out in 2004.

Fires, loss and legislation

On April 24, 2005, former Penn State senior Christopher Raspanti died in a house fire on the third story of 500 E. Beaver Ave. Raspanti’s parents, William and Kimi, filed a civil suit against Hendricks, Charles Tabolsky, Hendricks/Tabolsky Investments and Continental Real Estate Management Inc.

After investigating, police said the fire that caused Raspanti’s death allegedly had “an electrical origin,” according to court documents.  Police also found the house’s four smoke detectors were disabled or not functioning.

“Hendricks, Tabolsky and Hendricks/Tabolsky Investments knew or should have known that the third floor of the property was not equipped with necessary means for escape to assure the safety of tenants… against the dangers of fire,” court documents said.

The Raspantis attempted to charge the defendants on nine counts, but Hendricks’ lawyer at the time filed complaints that the allegations were “vague and unsupported,” according to the Daily Collegian archives.

Following Raspanti’s death, the State College Borough Council established an amendment to the International Fire Safety Code, that landlords had no more than two years to implement: all rental properties must be inspected every three years, have “permanent, hard-wired or wireless smoke detectors,” and have a second exit if the third floor is occupied.

In 2006, two additional fires took place in Marvin Gardens apartments, a complex of eight buildings in Hendricks’ portfolio, according to The Daily Collegian archives.  The first fire ignited on March 28, 2006 at 211 Easterly Parkway.  Although the fire was deemed an accident, the smoke detectors in the apartment and in a neighboring apartment were inoperable at the time.  Eight months later, another fire ignited on Pugh Street.

According to the Centre Region Code Administration, Hendricks violated the borough fire ordinances because there were no smoke detectors in the bedrooms of the apartment or the common stairwell between apartments, according to The Daily Collegian archives.

The Centre Region Code Administration’s updated handbook says smoke alarms should be installed and inspected by the landlords before the tenants occupy a unit.

However, 16 years later, Katie said her smoke detector was dangling by wires from the ceiling when she moved into her Hendricks’ apartment.

Deceptive, fraudulent or unethical practices – and the Pennsylvania AG

In 2013, four Penn State students sued Hendricks for violating the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law – which protects individuals from deceptive, fraudulent or unethical practices in order to gain a profit – as well as 68 P.S. Real and Personal Property § 250.512 — which protects tenants from incurring additional expenses from their landlords for damages that were not presented to them.

Cullen Balinski, Taylor Berrian, Michael Frankenfield and Andrew Green lived in a Hendricks’ property during the 2014-15 academic year. According to court documents, Hendricks “unlawfully” charged or overcharged the tenants for additional items, such as replacement drip pans, and withheld their $2,263.38 security deposit, court documents said.

The court found that Hendricks’ “intentional misrepresentation of maintenance charges completed […] and charged to tenants is an unfair and deceptive trade practice.”

In this case, the courts determined that Hendricks’ violated the UTPCPL and breached the Penn State students’ contract again.

Many cases against Hendricks’ have been filed by lawyers within Penn State Student Legal Services (SLS). Students with housing issues and other legal issues are able to access SLS, free of charge, to assist in conflicts.

According to Director of Penn State SLS Kelly Mroz, more than 300 students reached out to SLS with various landlord-tenant issues in 2021. As of March 2022, the university has pending litigation with Hendricks, according to Mroz. She said she could not make any comment in response to previous and current conflicts students faced with Hendricks.

In 2016, former Pennsylvania Attorney General Bruce Beemer announced a settlement with Hendricks after accusing him of charging tenants with unlawful administrative fees and fines.  According to a release from Beemer, Hendricks allegedly “routinely charged hundreds — if not thousands — of dollars above and beyond the amount of the security deposit upon termination of the lease.”

The settlement of this case required Hendricks to cease overcharging tenants, pay restitution to eligible tenants and pay the Pennsylvania commonwealth $25,000 to cover the costs of civil penalties and the investigation, according to The Daily Collegian archives.

However, after the 2016 case, Hendricks continued to face civil litigation from tenants.

Later in 2020, Hendricks was sued by additional Penn State students Lauren Sandercock, Kiriana Jobson, Cara Scipioni, Amanda Bater, Morgan Herber and Elena Rose.

The tenants resided at 500 E. Beaver Ave—the same house where the fire that killed Raspanti occurred—and alleged that Hendricks withheld fees and deposits, breached their contract, violated the Landlord Tenant Act, violated the UTPCPL, breached fiduciary duty and promissory estoppel, according to court documents.

Promissory estoppel refers to one party’s promise to another party and the legal obligation both sides are required to uphold, according to Cornell Law School.

In this case, Hendricks “breached” promissory estoppel as well as fiduciary duty — meaning he did not uphold the binding contract between landlord and tenant.

In November 2021, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro filed a lawsuit against Hendricks for “repeated violations of the Consumer Protection Law and Landlord Tenant Act,” according to court documents. Court documents said the commonwealth aims to “restrain” Hendricks’ methods and practices, and Shapiro intends to seek a “permanent” remedy.

Community groups calling for accountability

Some State College groups, such as Alleghenies Abolition and ​​The State College Solidarity Collective/El Colectivo de Solidaridad de State College, are fighting against landlords like Hendricks. Alleghenies Abolition, joined by El Colectivo and other progressive organizations, hosted an anti-eviction rally in December 2021 to bring awareness to those who are uneducated regarding their legal rights as tenants.

Emiliano Cambra-Morales, a spokesperson for El Colectivo, said the organization had heard complaints regarding the “habitability” of Hendricks apartments.

After composing a list of issues, such as “defective kitchen appliances,” leaks in bathrooms and the presence of mold, Cambra-Morales said El Colectivo documented the issues with pictures.

“Once we [sent Hendricks the list of demands], he terminated the leases of those tenants,” Cambra-Morales said. “He let them expire and did not allow them to renew. He never fixed anything, but he continued taking rent.”

“When I met him personally, he pretended he didn’t know why we were there,” Cambra-Morales said. “He 100% pretended he had no idea what was going on.”

Cambra-Morales said he believes Hendricks targets those who have “limited options,” such as students and those with low-income — a moral Cambra-Morales disagrees with.

“I think that’s his motto — to prey on people suffering in desperate situations.”

After contacting his attorney Lee Stivale and Hendricks Investments multiple times, Hendricks said he had “no comment” regarding any of the litigation.

Editor’s note: Elena Rose is a former editor-in-chief of the Daily Collegian

This investigation was reported, fact-checked, and edited by a team at the Daily Collegian.

Reporter: Olivia Estright
Features and Investigations Editor: Phoebe Cykosky
Managing Editor: Becky Marcinko
Editor-in-Chief: Megan Swift
Contributing Reporters from The Daily Collegian archival reportage: Fred Cichon, Halle Stockton, Jessica Turnbull.

The reporter on this story analyzed 105 court documents found on the Centre County Online Information System, referencing Rodney Hendricks or Hendricks Investments. The court documents ranged from 1997 through the November 2021 lawsuit between Hendricks and former Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. Court documents that showed certain continuous legal tendencies of Hendricks and significant charges were included in the story. The Daily Collegian editors checked every document mentioned throughout the story to ensure validity and accurate legal articulation. Several individuals affected by and cited in this story requested to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation; the editorial team verified that each anonymous source was a current or former resident of Hendricks’ properties via copies of their lease agreements and other address-related documentation. The editorial team cross-referenced source lease agreements with the publicly available list of properties owned by Hendricks. And all historical reporting documenting incidents that include Penn State students and Hendricks’ were identified in The Daily Collegian archives.


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