The central Fresno apartment complex where residents have been without gas for heating or hot water for three weeks is now under the supervision of a property management company that pledges to restore gas service and correct a raft of city code violations.
The out-of-town owner of Summerset Village Apartments, Chris Henry of Santa Barbara, contracted with Fresno-based Regency Property Management to coordinate the repairs and renovations to the 220-unit complex at Fresno Street and Weldon Avenue.
Regency Property Management president Brad Hardie said Henry hired his company to take over the task of bringing in contractors to repair the main gas line into the complex and complete long-neglected renovations for most of the individual units.
It’s not going to go over two weeks if I’m involved. I want to be able to sleep at night.
Regency Property Management president Brad Hardie about the timeline for gas line repairs at Summerset Village Apartments
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Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin applauded the change during a Thursday morning news conference at the apartments.
The best news, Swearengin said: Hardie is committed to finishing the gas line repairs within the next two weeks. She said Hardie is prepared to meet timelines that “are much faster and much more aggressive than what we were hearing from the property owner just a few days ago.”
Hardie said the first priority is to restore the gas service so that residents can have heat and hot water. “The pressure’s on,” he said. “I would like to get it done sooner. … It’s not going to go over two weeks if I’m involved. I want to be able to sleep at night.”
The announcement by Swearengin came at the same time the Fresno City Council was meeting in a closed session to discuss the possibility of taking action against property owner Henry, who in recent days has been roundly denounced as an absentee slumlord by city officials and community leaders. The council had no action to report from its closed session.
But Thursday afternoon, attorneys for some of the tenants announced they’re planning civil action against Henry, an entrepreneur whose holdings include restaurants in Santa Barbara and Sausalito.
Swearengin said the city is familiar with Regency Property’s work from its involvement in efforts to improve the Lowell Neighborhood north of downtown. “This company is active in literally every neighborhood in Fresno and managing thousands of units, and has a very good reputation for being a very good property owner and property manager,” the mayor said.
While Thursday represented Hardie’s first full day on the job at the apartment complex, Fresno City Council Member Clint Olivier said Hardie got involved as soon as the squalid conditions facing the estimated 1,000 residents – mostly southeast Asian immigrants – began to be reported in the community.
1,444 code violations at Summerset Village Apartments
Olivier said Hardie went to stores on his own last weekend to buy as many electric space heaters and blankets as he could to help residents get through the cold weather until gas lines can be repaired.
Last week, city officials estimated that repairs at the complex could cost $250,000 to $300,000. In the days since, the magnitude of problems at the complex blossomed into hundreds of pages of city health and safety code violations. On Thursday, Hardie estimated the total cost to bring the apartment complex back into code compliance would be about $1 million, about half of which is for the gas line repairs.
Del Estabrooke, the city’s code-enforcement manager, said that by the time his inspectors finished combing through all of the apartment units, they compiled a list of 1,444 code violations. Estabrooke said that list is being provided to Hardie to serve as “a bible of what needs to be done.”
While the gas repairs are happening, Hardie said other teams will start renovations Monday on nine vacant apartments to address all of the code violations and install new flooring, baseboards and cabinets and repaint. “Once we complete those vacant units, we’ll move (families in) nine of the worst units over to the units we just renovated, and we’ll just keep running in phases,” he said.
Plans to sue
On Thursday afternoon, volunteer attorneys with the renter advocacy group Tenants Together announced their plan to sue Henry.
Pahoua Lor, Alexia Kirkland and John Cadwalader said they represent the tenants of nearly 150 units at Summerset. They seek an unspecified amount for paid rent, repairs that tenants paid for and emotional suffering.
We have got to get them out. The only way to do that is to hold them legally responsible.
Tenants Together attorney Alexia Kirkland about ‘slumlords’ in Fresno
The attorneys plan to file a legal complaint next week. Kirkland said Fresno is a breeding ground for slumlords.
“We have got to get them out,” she said. “The only way to do that is to hold them legally responsible.”
Kirkland said the last major substandard housing lawsuit she represented was on behalf of the tenants at Fresno Inn last year. The rundown motel was closed after officials condemned it, displacing 65 people. She said nothing has changed since then.
“The community is fed up,” she said. “Whether the politicians are fed up, time will tell.”
Habitability claims against property managers can be successful, Kirkland said, but the Valley is conservative and few attorneys represent tenants at all. Plus, she said, they are going up against a company with “an unlimited supply to bury the issue.”