Resolution reached in Merced apartment dispute

mnorth@mercedsunstar.comApril 12, 2013 

— A group of tenants in the Tioga apartment building in Merced reached a resolution with the management Thursday after they claimed they were faced with wrongful eviction threats.

The dispute stemmed from claims by Tioga's management that about a dozen tenants owed back rent and security deposits. Several of the residents staunchly denied that accusation.

Manco Abbott Real Estate Management originally issued "three day, pay-or-quit" notices, which demanded the tenants pay for the back rent and deposits or face possible eviction.

But the company rescinded those notices Thursday with a letter to the affected residents.

The letter, from CEO Hal Kissler, hints that the confusion is tied to a former Manco Abbott employee who allegedly defrauded the company.

"I would like to personally apologize for the unfortunate set of circumstances that may have recently caused uneasiness among our valued residents at the Tioga Apartments," the letter reads. "As a result of fraudulent activity tied to the complex, our company executed an audit trail to verify records."

The alleged fraud committed by the former employee who managed Tioga is under investigation, according to the letter. The person has reportedly signed a confession letter, which has been turned over to the Merced Police Department.

Tioga resident George LaFrance II, 25, got a notice March 26 claiming he owed $1,440.50 in back rent and late fees.

But LaFrance said management came to his door Thursday to apologize for the confusion and confirmed that he doesn't owe any of that money.

LaFrance said he thinks the fraud is tied in with the claims of back rent because the amount the management company was claiming the tenants owed was about the same as the nearly $40,000 the former employee is accused of embezzling.

Several community members banded together in support of the tenants who claimed they were being wronged. One property management company offered one to two months of free rent to anyone who may have been wrongfully displaced from Tioga.

Terry Ruscoe, a broker with Merced Yosemite Realty and Yosemite Property Management, said his company was willing to help out the tenants on a case-by-case basis to get them back on their feet should they have been evicted.

"The community needs to step up to the plate and say, 'How can we help our own?' " Ruscoe said. "We believe in the community. We believe in people. We all need to reach out to one another."

LaFrance said it was nice to have so much support after he got the original pay-or-quit notice.

"It's a good feeling," he said. "It's a good feeling to have the community come out, and check on us and visit with us."

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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