Fresno city officials are asking Fresno County Superior Court to force a landlord to fix a laundry list of housing issues that code enforcement officers found during an inspection of the property two months ago.
Code enforcement inspectors on Jan. 27 targeted a 15-unit complex of four buildings with a history of code violations on East Clay Avenue, just east of Highway 168. The owner is Guadalupe Fernandez of Tulare. His property had four calls for code service and 11 police calls in the past year.
Among the violations are substandard roof, rotted wood, lack of adequate heating, vermin, clogged sewer lines, damaged plumbing fixtures and pervasive water damage. The case, filed Thursday, says the property “continues to pose an immediate serious danger to the community … ”
This is the first time the city has sued a residential property owner for substandard conditions. The complaint pertains only to one six-unit building at 4551 E. Clay Ave.
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This property owner hasn’t demonstrated to me at least that he is interested in doing anything anytime soon.
Fresno City Manager Bruce Rudd
City Manager Bruce Rudd said Fernandez has made little attempt to fix up the property since inspectors first alerted him of the issues. They fined him $250 after a second inspection Feb. 23 found major issues, such as roof repairs that require permits, remained. They fined him $500 on March 7 after a third inspection.
“This property owner hasn’t demonstrated to me at least that he is interested in doing anything anytime soon,” Rudd said. “As a result, what we are implementing is a change from what we’ve done in the past. There will be no third citation.”
Fernandez disputed the city manager’s claim, saying Friday that he has made repairs. “I don’t have a clogged drain, not one,” he said. Garbage has been removed, Fernandez said, and he has knocked down the weeds. “When it comes to the tenants, it’s all taken care of, the water leaks, the heater, everything like that is done.”
City officials said they can’t verify that repairs have been made. But if they have been, they likely were done illegally because no permits have been taken out by Fernandez.
Permits were not required for the work already done, Fernandez said. The roof repair will need a permit, he said, but he has patched it for now. “In the summer, I will replace it all,” he said.
The case asks that the court either force Fernandez to fix the issues within 60 days or authorize the city and its contractors to fix the issues and then bill Fernandez. The case also asks that Fernandez be forced to pay for relocation costs for tenants while repairs are made.
When it comes to the tenants, it’s all taken care of, the water leaks, the heater, everything like that is done.
Property owner Guadalupe Fernandez
Rudd created a code enforcement strike team this year to go after Fresno’s worst properties. He assigned two code enforcement officers to inspect 13 apartment complexes with the most calls for police, fire and code enforcement. Fernandez’s complex was the first inspected.
Property owners cited by code enforcement can either fix the problems within 18 days or face a potential fine. The city typically works cooperatively with owners who make an effort to fix issues and need more time. If they fail to make repairs, the city can pay to fix the problems and bill the owner. It also can put a lien on the property until the owner pays up.
Property owners who believe they were wrongly fined can appeal. Rudd thinks some owners take advantage of the appeal process to extend the time before they have to start correcting issues.
Until recently, liens were the city’s go-to final option. Rudd admits they haven’t been a successful means of persuading owners to fix their property.
“A lien does nothing to correct an underlying issue or issues,” he said.
In December, the City Council adopted an ordinance allowing the city to place properties with severe code violations into receivership. The city can ask for a court-appointed person or company to take control of the property, fix it up using rent and income from the property itself and recover all costs through liens or subsequent sale of the property.
As a last attempt, the city could ask the court to seize money from an owner’s other personal assets to pay for repair or legal costs. Fernandez owns one other property in Fresno.