Paso apartment tenants just want a safe place to live, resident says
A Santa Barbara County couple accused of maintaining a slum-like Paso Robles apartment complex want to evict their tenants and shut down the business rather than spend millions of dollars on needed repairs, according to recent court filings.
Renters living in Grand View Apartments — a 54-unit, six-building complex located at 102-240 Spring St. — filed a lawsuit against their landlords on May 7 in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court.
The tenants claim they’ve been living in unsafe, moldy and vermin-infested units for years, but the landlords and property managers have ignored complaints and neglected needed maintenance.
The two parties were back in court on Tuesday in San Luis Obispo for a trial-setting conference.
On Friday, David Hamilton of Frederickson Hamilton LLP, who’s representing Grand View owners Ebrahim and Fahimeh Madadi, filed a brief claiming the Madadis “had no actual knowledge of the conditions of the Grand View Apartments” until their tenants sued them.
An inspector the Madadis hired to assess the complex determined conditions are so bad, “it is not safe for the tenants to remain at the property and that all tenants should vacate immediately,” according to the brief.
The Madadis — who have owned the Grand View property since 2008 — found the inspection results “difficult and shocking,” the brief states.
The needed Grand View fixes will cost more than $2.5 million and take at least two years to complete.
As a result, the Madadis have “elected to go out of business and remove the property from the rental market,” according to the brief.
The landlords want to give their renters 30-, 60- and 90-day notices to leave and will return their deposits in full. They’re not obligated to provide relocation benefits because the complex is going out of business, according to the brief.
Hamilton did not respond to The Tribune’s request for comment.
Life at Grand View
Francisco Ramirez has lived at Grand View for about three years — since 2016. He speaks English and Spanish and has become the de facto spokesman for other residents, many of whom aren’t comfortable talking to the media.
“They’re not sue-happy people,” Ramirez said of his fellow tenants in June. “They’re very humble.”
Ramirez, who’s also vice president of the Hispanic Business Association, rented a room from a friend before he moved into the complex with his mother.
Although his unit was initially clean and painted, Ramirez said he’s had cockroaches, “since day one.” When Ramirez informed property management, they told him it would be fixed, he said. But no one ever showed up.
He’s also had plumbing issues and continues to suffer from a bedbug infestation — he showed a Tribune reporter and photographer bites on his arms and legs.
Ramirez’s mother died in July 2018. She was hospitalized for pneumonia toward the end of her life, and she never fully recovered, even after she returned, he said. Ramirez fears the mold problems at Grand View may have contributed to her cough.
The complex, which was built in 1953, doesn’t have ramps and doesn’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Ramirez’s mother had trouble getting up and down the complex’s stairs, and hospital gurneys had trouble reaching her, as well.
Even though conditions at the complex are terrible, it’s expensive and challenging for Ramirez and most other residents to move and find new housing, he said: “It’s not easy or feasible to do.”
It’s tough for Ramirez, who works as a security guard, and other tenants — many of whom are service workers — not to feel bitter about their situation while Paso Robles’ tourism industry continues to grow around them.
“That tourism is brought by the people who do the work at the bottom,” he said.
‘Textbook retaliatory eviction’
The Madadis’ decision to get out of the rental business has also been influenced by a court order that’s prohibited them from collecting rent for nearly three months.
Superior Court Judge Ginger Garrett on May 24 granted tenants’ request for a restraining order to protect them from landlord retaliation, which compels the Madadis to address poor conditions at Grand View and prevents them from accepting rent until the court allows it.
Due to the lack of rent, Grand View has had to access reserves to continue paying the complex’s utility bills, according to the recent brief.
“Without rental income for what is likely to be an indeterminate amount of time, Grand View Apartments is now faced with the possibility of not being able to pay the mortgage, taxes and utilities in the near future,” the brief states.
Stephanie Barclay, an attorney for the San Luis Obispo Legal Assistance Foundation, and Allen Hutkin of Hutkin Law Firm are representing the tenants.
At a court hearing on Tuesday, they clashed with Hamilton, the landlords’ attorney, over potential evictions.
“They can’t just decide now ... that they’re just going out of business and not deal with this,” Barclay said.
But Hamilton defended his clients’ right to discontinue renting Grand View.
“Their obligation is not to continue to rent a dangerous, life-threatening building to people,” he said.
Barclay called the situation “textbook retaliatory eviction.” Judge Ginger Garrett will hear additional arguments at the next hearing on Sept. 11.
After the hearing, Barclay and Hutkin said they would continue to fight for the tenants, even if evictions should take place.
“I think there’s a lot of tenants throughout the county who are watching this lawsuit living in less-than-habitable conditions,” Hutkin said.