About 150 current and former residents of Summerset Village Apartments in central Fresno have fired back at the complex’s out-of-town owner by filing a lawsuit asking for millions of dollars in damages stemming from their monthlong stint without heat and years of negligence.
The 44-page suit, filed Thursday in Fresno County Superior Court, lobs dozens of accusations against Chris Henry, the owner of Summerset Village.
The plaintiffs – most of them Southeast Asian refugees over age 45 – blame Henry for the Nov. 12 shutoff of their natural gas and heat. The incident eventually led to the declaration of a local state of emergency while crews worked for about a month to restore services to the residents, most of whom are low-income.
While the plight of the residents after Nov. 12 is well documented, the lawsuit sheds light on a history of alleged negligence by Henry, called a “slumlord” by at least one Fresno City Council member.
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Henry allegedly was collecting around $100,000 per month in rent from the 220 apartment units. The residents claim he used this money to invest in property elsewhere. Henry has purchased three trendy California restaurants since 2013 and also owns an oil company in Kern County.
$100,000Henry’s estimated monthly income from Summerset Village Apartments, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday
The suit also claims Henry’s property manager, Gerry Vang, was notified of substandard conditions for years leading up to the gas shutoff. Vang allegedly told tenants they would have to pay for the fixes out of their own pockets and threatened some with eviction if they didn’t stop complaining.
Henry has placed much of the blame for the Summerset Village crisis on Vang, whom he said failed to notify him of the problems. Henry told The Bee in November that he walked the complex every month to check for problems and never found any. Since then, Henry has not answered repeated calls by The Bee to his cellphone. It’s not clear if he has a local attorney and Vang apparently is not currently involved in management of the complex.
The complex is undergoing extensive renovations, but some have complained about being left in substandard conditions until repairs reach them.
Attorney Pahoua C. Lor said her three-person legal team began compiling the lawsuits shortly after learning of the shutdown.
“Because of the number of tenants participating, it took quite a while to gather their information,” she said.
Lor’s clients are asking for millions of dollars in damages. The most damning of the claims asks for $2,000 per tenant per day spent living without heat – a sum that would total more than $9 million if fully awarded.
The tenants also are seeking partial reimbursement for rent paid during years of living in substandard conditions, which included insect and rodent infestation, broken smoke alarms, damaged windows and faulty electrical systems.
Management even refused to replace a door with several bullet holes in it when asked by a new tenant, Lor said.
Lor said lawsuits of this nature can take years to settle, but she hopes Henry steps up and takes responsibility for his actions.
$3 millionThe amount Chris Henry owes on Summerset according to a lawsuit filed Thursday against him
Many of the tenants named in the suit have lived at Summerset for more than a decade, Lor said.
Henry has owned Summerset Village for 15 years
Henry first took ownership of the complex from his parents in 2000 and has since expanded his investments.
According to an obituary in Marin County, Henry’s father was William Grier Henry. He worked for Boeing as an engineer and draftsman. He also designed the MasterCard logo.
Fresno County records indicate William Henry and his wife established the William Grier and Wynona L. Henry Trust on Aug. 5, 1993. This trust purchased the Summerset Village Apartments in 1999 and transferred the complex the following year to the 2103 North Angus Street LLC, which lists Chris Henry as its principal agent.
The limited-liability company was converted into a Limited Partnership in 2010. It still lists Henry as the primary agent.
The Angus LLC has a pretty clean record with the county. A mechanic’s lien of around $4,600 was placed on the property on Oct. 15, 2010 for a failure to pay for roofing services, but it was lifted within a few weeks. It is not delinquent on any property taxes, having paid the first of two $19,000 installments in November.
According to the Summerset lawsuit, Henry currently owes more than the complex is worth. Quoting Fresno County Assessor Paul Dictos, the suit says Summerset is worth about $2.8 million, but Henry has $3 million in liens from creditors.
The renovation project at Summerset is expected to cost at least $1 million.
Henry also owes the city of Fresno $290,000 for the 1,450 code violations stemming from inspections in November. That money was due on Jan. 6, but the city suspended the fines. Head of code enforcement Del Estabrooke said this week that the fines may be vacated if the renovations are completed in a timely fashion and the units pass an inspection.
154The exact number of tenants named as plaintiffs in a suit against Chris Henry
Fresno City Manager Bruce Rudd released a statement on the fines, saying he was “a long, long way from determining the final penalties for Mr. Henry’s negligence.” He added that any discussions about reducing the penalties won’t take place until after the renovations, but he did not implicitly say that Henry will be held accountable for all $290,000.
Trouble with oil company
Henry also has recently had a minor run-in with a state agency concerning his oil company.
State records name Henry as the principal agent for Allied Western Petroleum LP based in Kern County. According to drillingedge.com, a website that catalogs oil and gas companies’ movements in the U.S., Allied Western has 35 active wells in Kern County.
Calfornia Department of Conservation spokesman Don Drysdale said Allied Western was among 30 California gas and oil companies fined $4,500 for failing to share its first-quarter water usage data in the first quarter of 2015. Allied Western did not appeal the fine and had not paid it as of Dec. 9.
Drysdale said it’s possible that the lack of payment is the result of a miscommunication on the state side. A second notice will be sent to Allied Western. If it fails to pay, the case will be turned over to the state controller’s office for collection.
Henry the restaurateur
Henry owns at least three restaurants in California.
The Barrel House Tavern in Sausalito opened in 2013. The ocean-front restaurant specializes in oysters and other seafood, as well as craft cocktails and homemade sodas.
A manager at The Barrel House refused to comment on Henry.
Henry purchased Tommy’s Joynt, a San Francisco staple on Geary Boulevard since 1947, in June. The hofbrau serves sandwiches and various specialties and was family owned for more than 60 years before the sale.
Employees at Tommy’s Joynt also refused to comment.
Henry opened Dawn Patrol in Santa Barbara in June. The hash house, located three blocks from the ocean in a tourist-filled area, serves breakfast and lunch.
A manager at Dawn Patrol said she has had no problems with Henry since it opened.
Henry grew up in Sausalito and Tamalpais Valley in Marin County. He lives in Santa Barbara.