Tioga apartment tenants fight to have concerns addressed

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comJuly 8, 2013 

A consultant and team of private inspectors visited the historic Tioga Apartments in Merced on Wednesday after residents took their complaints about the living conditions to the building's owners.

Susan Bouscaren, committee member of Tenants Together, a statewide tenants rights organization, said the residents originally wanted the city's code enforcement officers to inspect their apartments and signed a petition to that effect in May.

Their complaints included concerns such as cockroaches, mold and overflowing garbage-collection rooms. But the petition fell on deaf ears, Bouscaren said, which prompted residents to individually call code enforcement for inspection.

David Gonzalves, director of Development Services for the city of Merced, said about nine calls were received, and enforcement officers checked four units last month.

Though the city inspected those units, Bouscaren said they didn't issue any citations and failed to document certain problems in their reports.

"They did a walk-through, but they didn't say anything," Bouscaren said. "They didn't cite the apartments that had the roaches or note the leak in the sink. Code enforcement is not putting everything in the report."

Bouscaren said that without issuing citations, the tenants of the Tioga Apartments have no legal recourse.

Gonzalves said those citations were not issued because officers didn't see any major problems.

"We concentrate on issues that have a major life-safety threat or landlords that are not being responsive," he said. "There are no code enforcement issues right now that are not being addressed by the management."

Last week, the tenants brought their concerns to a meeting with two of the building's five owners — Eric Starr and Neil Goodhue. The owners made the decision to hire a private consultant to inspect the building, costing them about $3,000 to $4,000.

"We brought in a third-party person to meet with the tenants, inspect the building and also identify if there's deficiencies with management that need to be dealt with," said Goodhue, who's owned the building since 1997. "It's more a matter of wanting to be totally transparent with the tenants."

Though Goodhue said city inspectors didn't find any fire or code violations, he acknowledged the desire to hire a new pest control company to deal with the cockroach issue.

Tioga resident Jessica Santos, 31, has one of the apartments inspected Wednesday. A pest control and restoration expert examined the unit.

The consultants asked Santos to point out her complaints, which she said included a cabinet filled with cockroach feces and holes at the bottom of her unit's walls. Santos' apartment was inspected by the city of Merced last week, but she said no citations were issued.

Santos said she originally voiced her concerns to the Tioga's management, hired by Fresno-based Manco Abbott, but nothing was done. Dan Limata, senior property manager, declined comment Wednesday.

Santos said she's cautiously optimistic that Wednesday's inspection will lead to results.

"I'm not going to say that I'm satisfied with the outcome yet, because it's just the beginning," she said. "Just because they inspected it, doesn't mean it will get done."

Goodhue said the consultant will present the owners with the results from the inspections within two weeks, as well as a plan for the building's future.

"We've hired them to come up with a business plan for major upgrades," he said, which could include painting the complex's exterior and considerable improvements to the elevators.

As for Santos, she says she's holding out hope that her problems will be addressed in the near future — but is prepared to continue the battle if things don't change.

"I'm not going to back off because they haven't proved that they want to take care of the issue," Santos said. "I'm still here, and I will be here until they put into action what they say."

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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