As Fresno leaders grapple with how to address substandard housing, one Clovis family’s experience highlights a related issue – how to complain about living conditions when your city has no code enforcement department.
The responsibility of code enforcement is shared by staff in several city of Clovis departments, including police, fire and planning. Unlike Fresno, Clovis has no dedicated code enforcement department.
(The issue of slums, substandard housing and blight in Fresno was spotlighted in The Fresno Bee’s special report, “Living in Misery,” at www.fresnobee.com/housing.)
Anthony Winsmann and his two young daughters live at Royal Villa Apartments on West Alamos Avenue. In the bathroom, small mushrooms are growing along a wall of mold behind the toilet. Winsmann said he first reported the issue to his apartment manager on April 25 and followed up several times since then.
“I have asthma and I definitely have issues breathing. Since we’ve lived in this apartment in particular I’ve been incredibly congested – more than normal,” Winsmann said. He added that his daughters got sick with high fevers and coughs twice in the past two months. That could be a common cold, but those symptoms could also be allergic reactions to mold.
Concerned about the health of her children, their mother, Jennifer Morgan, decided last week to help Winsmann, who is at work much of the time, by contacting the city of Clovis. “I almost put my potty-trained kids back into diapers because I don’t want them” in the bathroom, she said.
She Googled “Clovis code enforcement” and called the number that appeared. She said the woman who answered told her, “We don’t deal with mold” but didn’t tell her who does.
The manager at Royal Villa, who identified herself as Christie but declined to provide a last name, said Morgan refused to let a repairman fix the issue earlier this month. Morgan said the repairman wanted to clean the mold and paint over the area, but she wanted the moist area cut out and replaced with new drywall.
It’s not clear to tenants or anyone exactly where you report code violations in Clovis.
Simone Cranston-Rhodes, tenants advocate
“We’re here for all of our tenants to make them happy, make them feel safe,” Christie said. “I figured we’ll go ahead and let the city of Clovis come and they can tell us what they want us to do. That way everybody would be happy.”
It took Morgan eight hours and the help of a tenants-rights advocate to figure out who at the city could help. Simone Cranston-Rhodes, who used to work for Tenants Together, spent hours bouncing from office to office at City Hall before she was given the right number to call.
That number belonged to Cpl. Iri Guerra of the Clovis Police Department. Guerra said residents can file complaints about code enforcement issues a few different ways.
Residents can use the mobile application GoRequest to report issues such as potholes, graffiti, abandoned vehicles or interior mold. They can also file a complaint on the city’s website by clicking “customer service” under the “Govt” tab.
Complaints filed electronically are entered into the city’s record system and are forwarded to the appropriate department for follow-up. Members of all departments who deal with code enforcement meet regularly to discuss current cases, Guerra said.
But calling the city is trickier.
Guerra said the police department is the lead agency on code enforcement and suggested residents start by calling there (559-324-2800). He said the police department can transfer a caller to a different department, if needed.
Cranston-Rhodes said it’s crucial for tenants to have a clearly advertised phone number to call for help with code violations, especially for those who don’t have access to the internet or a smartphone. She said it was difficult enough for her to figure out how to file a complaint.
“It’s not clear to tenants or anyone exactly where you report code violations in Clovis,” she said. “Not even the secretary at the police department knew. To expect that tenants should know is a tall order.”
Christie, the apartment manager, wasn’t aware either. “I didn’t even know we didn’t have a city of Clovis code enforcement (department),” she said.
For now, Winsmann and his daughters continue to live with mold. City inspectors and the manager visited their apartment on Wednesday and said they would replace the moldy drywall areas next week.