Every night, Sandra Machuca, 54, and her five granddaughters sleep together in their living room, on guard in case someone tries to break in.
Machuca’s two-bedroom apartment in east-central Fresno has more health and safety violations than she can name in one breath. The most worrisome is her front door, which doesn’t shut all the way while the lock hangs limply off the door frame. Her home is also infested with bed bugs and cockroaches, has a leaky water cooler, numerous holes in the walls, only one working stove burner, clogged sink pipes and faulty electrical wiring.
“Anybody could come in here and take what little I have,” she said.
Machuca’s apartment complex is the first to come under the sights of a new code enforcement strike team that Fresno officials hope will force landlords to fix substandard housing. Under the city’s new directive, apartments that have had the highest number of code complaints, fire and police calls are being tagged for inspections. Landlords must either correct problems or face receivership and possibly criminal charges.
City officials converged at the 15-unit complex on East Clay Avenue, just east of Highway 168, around 11 a.m. Tuesday. City Manager Bruce Rudd said he hopes apartment complex owners will take notice of the new strict policy and maintain properties without the city forcing them to do so.
A small toddler wandering around an open stove is totally unacceptable. And this is going to be stopped.
City Manager Bruce Rudd
At a nearby apartment, Nacoyia Polite and Dashawn Rogers, both 19, kept warm despite their broken heater by turning on the oven. They moved into the two-bedroom apartment with their two children, Polite’s mother and her mother’s infant last month. Polite said the ceiling water cooler vent leaks, two of their stove burners don’t work and there’s enough space between the front door and wall to stick a finger in and pop open the top lock. The ceiling in her bedroom looks like it could cave in at any moment.
Rogers said mildew throughout the apartment has worsened his asthma and his son’s bronchitis. Polite’s 9-month-old brother, Kollin Jackson, got bronchitis soon after moving in.
“I blame it on the apartment,” Polite said.
City spokesman Mark Standriff said the property owner is Guillermo Fernandez of Tulare, but Fresno County assessment records show the owner of the apartment complex is Guadalupe Fernandez of Tulare. Neither Fernandez was able to be reached for comment.
The complex has a history of code violations, but it is not the worst on the city’s list of apartments to inspect, City Manager Bruce Rudd said. It was chosen to be the first inspected, however, because the city became aware of concerns that had to be addressed and for its size, he said.
In the next couple of weeks, larger complexes will be inspected, Rudd said. The city is documenting the inspections in the event that property owners sue, he said.
The mold and infestation of rodents and cockroaches found in the apartments came as no surprise, Rudd said, but Polite’s forced use of her cooking stove to heat her apartment was “nothing less than horrendous,” he said.
“A small toddler wandering around an open stove is totally unacceptable,” Rudd said. “And this is going to be stopped.”
Rudd said the city has $30,000 set aside to help relocate residents displaced by inspections. The city likely will find a new apartment for Polite and the family using some of those funds, he said.
The apartment complex will need extensive repairs, and Rudd said the city will make sure “this property owner realizes that business as usual is no longer acceptable.”