Judge allows Paso landlords to force tenants out instead of making $2.5 million in fixes

Residents of a slum-like apartment complex in Paso Robles are being forced to move out after their landlords decided to go out of business rather than make $2.5 million in repairs.

Starting on Friday, Grand View Apartments tenants will be served with 60- to 90-day notices to vacate, following a ruling by San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Ginger Garrett.

Grand View residents on May 7 filed a class action lawsuit against Ebrahim and Fahimeh Madadi, their Santa Barbara County landlords, accusing them of renting unsafe apartments filled with mold, infested with vermin and plagued by plumbing problems.

More than 200 people live in the complex’s 54 units, which are situated in multiple buildings that were constructed in 1953.

Garrett on May 24 approved a preliminary injunction order prohibiting the landlords from collecting rent or removing tenants from the complex premises.

But when an inspection revealed costly, needed repairs, the Madadis decided to go out of business instead of renovating Grand View.

Residents living at the Grand View Apartments complex in Paso Robles say their units are have black mold and are infested with bedbugs. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Arguments against eviction

Allen Hutkin of Hutkin Law Firm and Stephanie Barclay of the San Luis Obispo Legal Assistance Foundation, both of whom are representing the tenants, argued the Madadis should not be able to evict the renters.

Forcing tenants to vacate would be retaliatory — punishment for trying to change their terrible living conditions, Hutkin and Barclay said.

But Garrett on Monday filed a ruling allowing the Madadis to remove Grand View from the rental market and force the tenants to leave.

The landlords must pay each tenant $1,000 for relocation expenses and must return their full security deposits a week after they leave their apartments, according to the court ruling.

Grand View will also reimburse tenants up to $200 for the costs of fumigating their apartments.

The landlords must prepare a weekly report starting on Oct. 4 showing the tenants who’ve vacated their apartments and providing copies of the checks payable for relocation expenses, deposits and fumigation reimbursements.

“We are disappointed by the court’s ruling,” Barclay said in a statement. “We were hoping to get more time for the tenants, but unfortunately the law allows Grand View to go out of business instead of making the apartments safe and habitable for its tenants. Some municipalities have ordinances in place that provide extra tenant protections, but such protections do not exist in San Luis Obispo County.”

Black mold on a window and wall in a Grand View Apartments unit. Residents say black mold, bedbug bites, roaches and mice are common at the complex. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Affordable housing in Paso Robles

John Fowler, president of housing nonprofit Peoples’ Self-Help Housing, said Grand View tenants will likely struggle to find affordable units in Paso Robles, where the rental vacancy rate is 1.9%, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

“We’re extremely disappointed the court couldn’t give these families more time to relocate,” he told The Tribune on Friday.

Although residents said their landlords steadily raised their rents, they were paying housing costs that are relatively affordable for the area, Fowler said.

He called Grand View an “NOA,” or “naturally occurring affordable” housing that’s rented on the private market, as opposed to being subsidized by a government agency.

“It’s an affordable housing development, period,” Fowler said.

Moving forward, Peoples’ Self-Help Housing will keep two currently vacant units in its Creston Gardens development open for Grand View residents, Fowler said.

The nonprofit will also continue trying to buy the Grand View property, which the organization would renovate as affordable housing, he said.

Barclay told the Tribune in an email she’s trying to rally additional nonprofits and agencies to help the Grand View tenants as they move out, including the Housing Authority of San Luis Obispo, the Paso Robles Housing Authority, Five Cities Homeless Coalition and the El Camino Homeless Organization.

“Although our clients will no longer be Grand View tenants, the class action case against the owners and manager will continue,” Barclay said in a statement. “We intend to pursue just compensation for the damages our clients have incurred and the injuries they have suffered.”

Anyone aware of available rental housing should contact the San Luis Obispo Legal Assistance Foundation office at 805-543-5140.

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Lindsey Holden writes about housing, North County communities and everything in between for The Tribune in San Luis Obispo. She became a staff writer in 2016 after working for the Rockford Register Star in Illinois. Lindsey is a native Californian raised in the Midwest and earned degrees from DePaul and Northwestern universities.