"My client hopes to see that her practices are shut down and come to an end and she stops taking advantage of people," Attorney Ryan Gavin said.
ST. LOUIS — There are new details after the city of St. Louis sued several landlords in mid-January.
The defendants, including Dara Daugherty and her associates, are accused of renting out condemned properties filled with health and safety violations.
The city's lawsuit said no background checks were made and Daugherty solicited clients from homeless shelters and food banks.
It also said she told a police officer she makes approximately $40,000 per month collecting rent from tenants and does not spend any money maintaining properties.
St. Louis County lawyer Ryan Gavin said this has been going on for years.
His client's case is mentioned in the lawsuit filed by the city.
Gavin got involved after a tenant named James Cole reached out. Cole lived on Jefferson Avenue and paid $500 in rent to live there.
The lawsuit claims the landlord knew tenants were disadvantaged and she used her superior position for personal profit.
"The tenants in the building shared a kitchen, a bathroom, and the common areas. The property was not well maintained at all. There were structural problems if you went down to the basement and problems with the support beams, structure of the home," Gavin said. "I believe he described drug use on the property, other violent crimes and I believe one or two overdose deaths on the property."
Cole filed a lawsuit against his landlord Dara Daugherty and her company, AAA Sunshine LLC, in April 2023 claiming negligence and alter ego liability.
This is after Cole was assaulted by another tenant in 2021.
"He was stabbed by a homemade spear multiple times on the property. One was in the belly with some of his intestines coming out and he had a serious stab wound to his right arm, wrist area," Gavin said.
Following that, Cole had surgery and was admitted to the hospital for 17 days.
Because of this, Cole faced medical expenses of more than $150,000.
While he's a veteran and gets help from Veterans Affairs, he hasn't been able to return to work since he uses his hands for labor.
Gavin said Cole applied for the Missouri State Assistance for Housing Relief assistance with Daugherty's help. It's a program designed to provide temporary immediate emergency assistance in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cole said the money went straight to her.
When Gavin took this case, he started to realize there was a pattern of horrible living conditions, multiple police calls to the property and other eviction lawsuits against Daugherty.
"There is a pattern here where she maintains all these properties and the dreadful conditions and that was the hook where we said she should have foreseen this from happening," Gavin said.
A judge decided on Cole's case in September.
"We secured a default judgment because they did not answer the lawsuit. It's $1.8 million dollars for medical bills, loss of income and pain and suffering on top of that," Gavin said. "Certainly, this is an opportunity and my client hopes to see that her practices are shut down and come to an end and she stops taking advantage of people."
Months later, he learned the city would file a similar lawsuit against the same defendants in 2024 on a larger scale.
"I did not realize the full scope of it until the city's lawsuit. We found five or six other properties in our research," Gavin said.
Speaking to the mayor's spokesperson Nick Dunne mid-January, Dunne said the city has taken on more of an approach to tackle problem properties.
Dunne said their Affirmative Litigation Unit, which was created in 2021, connected the dots in this specific case after noticing trends.
"We started to evaluate the more egregious nuisance properties," Dunne said. "We connected many of the properties through the city to a small group of people who are purchasing these properties, not maintaining them and renting them out while still condemned."
According to the city's lawsuit, it said as of September 2023, AAA Sunshine and Daugherty are the named defendants in at least 80 St. Louis City Municipal Court cases. All of AAA Sunshine's cases and most of Daugherty's cases arise from building code violations.
Currently, Daugherty is being charged for a separate case, a first-degree burglary charge. The next court hearing for that case is on Feb. 6.
5 On Your Side reached out to the defendants and have not heard back.
Meanwhile, Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, also known as LSEM, told 5 On Your Side, that the agency has multiple pending lawsuits and several potential cases right now.
An attorney with LSEM is representing the Carondelet Community Betterment Federation. It filed a lawsuit seeking an order declaring a Virginia Avenue property a nuisance and ordering AAA Sunshine to abate all nuisance conditions and ordinance violations.
Another attorney with LSEM said they've been known about these defendants for many years and they have made it a priority to help people directly impacted.