Dozens of protesters rallied in front of a Linda Vista apartment complex Wednesday afternoon (April 27), demanding property managers immediately begin dealing with a backlog of habitability complaints ranging from deferred maintenance to rodent infestation to toxic mold growth.
"Tenant rights is an issue that must be dealt with," said Shane Harris, head of the local chapter of Al Sharpton's National Action Network. "Mayor Kevin Faulconer has not taken a stance for tenant rights. He said last year he was going to deal with this issue and send funds to the code-compliance department of San Diego. He hasn't done that, and we're going to take a stand against it."
Harris, flanked by residents of the Village Apartments, a 200-unit complex on the 7000 block of Eastman Street, aired their concerns over health and safety violations at the complex before marching a short distance to deliver what Harris described as "in excess of 100" complaints to management, which he said would also be presented to the city's code-compliance department and the city council at an upcoming meeting.
"I'm hearing about issues related to habitability — cockroach and rodent infestations, leaky roofs and windows, broken windows, electrical and plumbing issues — you name it. And I'm hearing that these issues have not been addressed," said Cliff Dover, an attorney engaged by the tenants to escalate their claims.
"When it gets to the point tenants start looking for someone to intervene on their behalf, it's likely they've been looking for relief on their own for some time to no avail. A lot of these families are non-English-speaking, and they tend to get taken advantage of. There seems to be a feeling in the housing community that these people are lucky to have a place at all.
"Low-income tenants are constantly being threatened with eviction."
Instead of resistance, protesters were directed to the management office's back lot, where a table was set up with several employees offering to log maintenance requests.
Sunrise Management president Joseph Greenblatt, who was not immediately available to offer comment to the Reader, told demonstrators that his company had recently acquired the management contract and was working to catch up on a backlog of deferred maintenance left behind by the property's previous management company.
Gustavo Peña, who said he's lived at Village Apartments for 20 years, disagreed with the timeline.
"This management company has been around for two years, and they've picked up problems that have been going on for the last 20," Peña said, claiming issues with his own unit had gone unaddressed and that his Spanish-speaking mother had been tricked into signing a contract in English affirming that there were no problems with the unit.
"I had both management and a mold-inspection company come into my home where I have mold issues in several rooms, and still I have not been offered a solution," said Peña of a walk-through that supposedly happened three months ago. "They just looked around, said, 'thank you,' and left.
"I asked if they would let us move into a mold-free unit while they fixed the problem, and they said, 'Yes, but we'll raise your rent by $200 to $300 per month.'
"They told us that if we don't sign this agreement that said that the property was in pristine condition, they'd raise our rent."
Failing immediate corrective action, Harris says the group will take their concerns to the city council sometime next month.