Tioga tenants ask Merced City Council to get building cleaned up

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comMay 13, 2013 

— Residents of the Tioga apartment building in Merced have demanded better living conditions, appealing to the city to pressure the management firm to clean up the historic structure.

Apartment residents submitted a petition to the City Council this week requesting that city code enforcement officials inspect about 40 units and cite the landlord for any violations.

"Merced code enforcement has failed to inspect on the complaint of living conditions in any apartments, and we are hereby serving them with a petition signed by many tenants who are not yet afraid of the intimidation by management," Tioga resident Marina Ramirez told the council on Monday.

Topping the list of complaints are a cockroach infestation, mold and overflowing garbage-collection rooms.

Dan Limata, senior property manager with Fresno-based Manco Abbott, said the company was taking steps to address tenants' concerns.

"Our corporate office is working diligently to resume the high level of service apartment residents have enjoyed for decades," he said. "We're extremely sad about the set of circumstances that has caused uneasiness among our valued residents."

At the same time, Tioga apartment residents continue to live in what they describe as squalid conditions.

"I'm seeing roaches crawling on my couch where I'm laying," Ramirez said. "I can't leave my soda on the coffee table to go to the bathroom because there they are within a couple minutes."

Tenant Jessica Santos said when a maintenance worker replaced an old cabinet in her apartment, a thick layer of roaches and eggs were revealed.

"When he pulled that out, he expected me to clean it," she said. "And if I didn't clean it, he was going to put in my new cabinet just like that.

"I didn't see them rip out the bathroom cabinets, so if my kitchen looked like that, I can just imagine what my bathroom looked like," she added.

No serious violations

Ten-year resident Bruce Shand said he's given up trying to get management to improve the conditions.

"There has been a problem with roaches as long as I've been here," he said. "Unfortunately, for the last two years, it continues to get worse and worse."

After the city first heard about the situation at the apartment building, it sent over several inspectors, but found no serious violations.

"Our role is to protect the life and safety of the residents," said city spokesman Mike Conway. "We found nothing that was going to jeopardize that. We sent code enforcement, fire and building (officials) over there, and they did not find any major concerns."

However, without formal invitations, city inspectors could not legally go into individual units. The recently submitted petition changes that.

As a result, the city recently notified Manco Abbott that it will do a second inspection in about two weeks, said David Gonzal- ves, Merced's director of development services.

"I think we'll get to the bottom of it and find out what the real issue is," he said. "The owner's been put on notice. They've been very cooperative. And it sounds like they have a gameplan."

City staff members said they plan to meet with Manco Abbott after the inspections and report back to the City Council.

"I think they're doing the right thing to try and shed a light on this," said Councilman Mike Murphy. "The city's doing all it can in its power to help improve the living condition there."

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.

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