Tenants of a rundown central Fresno motel are angry and concerned about a second wave of vacate notices issued Sunday stating the Fresno Inn will be closed Sept. 1 and electricity and plumbing will be shut off.
The new notices were served about two weeks after three-day notices to vacate were issued Aug. 8.
The previous notices blamed Caltrans, stating high-speed rail construction in the area starts Sept. 1. Caltrans said that is untrue and that construction probably won't begin until mid-to-late 2014.
The new notices say the closure is because the city approved the inn's request to turn it into a "vacant building."
According to the city, no vacant building plan has been approved.
"They are working on filing one, but that has to include a relocation plan (for tenants) and that is not complete," said Jennifer Clark, director of the city's Development and Resource Management Department.
Dean Preston, executive director of the renter-rights group Tenants Together, said the group has been working with Fresno Inn tenants and that notices should have been issued months ago and are illegal.
"The bigger picture here is this is a slumlord who decided to harass tenants with eviction notices and threaten to cut off utilities instead of making the property inhabitable by making repairs required under state law," Preston said.
As of last week there were about 55 renters at the inn on Parkway Drive near Clinton Avenue.
Alessandra Muhawi, a Fresno lawyer representing some of the tenants, said she worked with the inn's manager on Thursday to find an alternative to filing a restraining order in court.
"They have agreed not to turn off the power or utilities or turn out tenants from their homes (on Sept. 1)," Muhawi said. "They also agreed to cease the distribution of these illegal notices to vacate."
Legally, a landlord must give tenants 60 days notice to vacate a property without cause, although the notice can be just 30 days if the tenant has lived there less than a year, she said.
On Wednesday, Bill Leyton, the Fresno Inn's manager, said tenants will be offered relocation assistance and first month's rent elsewhere if they lived at the inn for more than a year, or a week of rent for people who've lived there for less than a year.
Preston said if that's true, the offer should be given to tenants in writing.
"Dealing with relocation plans off-the-cuff verbally is highly unprofessional and would lead to a misunderstanding of what is being offered," Preston said.
The Fresno Inn, built in 1961, is owned by a Silicon Valley company, Casa de Campo LLC of Saratoga. According to county property tax records, the company has owned the motel since 2001.
George S. Lee, listed on public records as a member of Casa de Campo LLC, could not be reached for comment. A message on his telephone said he is unavailable until Sept. 2.
"It's really troubling that their response to being called out on their first round of eviction notices is to serve another round of eviction notices," Preston said, adding that Tenants Together also reached out to Casa de Campo LLC and hasn't heard back.
More than half of the rooms at the Fresno Inn are boarded up or closed off. Several more are posted with red "unsafe to occupy" notices from the city.
Clark, the Fresno planning official, said the city has received an increase in complaints about living conditions at the Fresno Inn since January.
"Staff has spent a significant amount of time at the property, attempting to work with the owner to find appropriate units for the tenants," she said. "They have not wanted to repair the units nor find appropriate housing for the tenants."
Motel tenants said they pay $550 a month for their rooms — many with soiled walls and carpets, air conditioners and heaters that don't work, and insect and mice infestations.
Fresno Inn tenant John Laranjo, 58, said he went without hot water for four weeks in November and that he buys several cans of Raid every month to deal with bugs.
He said some 60-day eviction notices were issued in late June but were revoked the same day. Laranjo believes it was because management wanted to continue collecting rent.
"It's crooked stuff," Laranjo said, adding that he's "not budging" until he's paid to move, and given proper notice to vacate. He said he feels he should also be compensated for the poor living conditions.
Muhawi said civil lawsuits could be filed down the line but that it's still too early to think about.
"We're looking to get the best possible outcome for these people," Muhawi said. "They've been forgotten in a lot of ways and neglected, and having seen how they live, it's shocking."
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6386, email@example.com or @CarmenGeorge on Twitter.