For years, tenants have tolerated landlord harassment, illegal evictions, hazardous living conditions and other forms of abuse with little recourse. Irresponsible landlords get away with these wrongful actions because of a lack of oversight, transparency and accountability. The lack of public information about these bad actors leaves tenants with no way to learn, in advance, if they are entering into a contract with an unscrupulous landlord, and no way to expose unethical or illegal behavior after the fact.
As a result, bad landlords continue renting substandard housing to unsuspecting tenants in different properties across a given city and, potentially, in different cities across the state. Tenants Together, California’s only statewide organization dedicated to protecting and advancing the rights of tenants, recently launched the Landlord Hall of Shame in order to shine a spotlight on bad landlords and send a clear message that their actions will be announced and publicized.
To be inducted to the Hall of Shame, the landlord must first be suggested as a nominee. All California tenants can suggest nominees for the Landlord Hall of Shame by going to http://hallofshame.tenantstogether.org. If the nominee is already on the list, simply click the link to tell us more. Then, based on the information submitted and our own research, Tenants Together announces Official Nominees throughout the year. Lastly, members of Tenants Together participate in an annual vote to determine which of the Official Nominees will be inducted into the Hall of Shame.
There are currently five Official Nominees for the Landlord Hall of Shame:
- In Bakersfield, Frank St. Clair, the managing broker for Bella Vista Real Estate, LLC, evicted numerous tenants after foreclosure in direct violation of their rights under the federal Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act (PTFA), which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in May 2009.
- In East Palo Alto, David Taran of Page Mill Properties orchestrated and executed a predatory scheme to evict thousands of rent-controlled tenants in the city.
- In Los Angeles, L.A. Clippers owner and mega-landlord Donald Sterling has been involved in a growing number of out-of-court settlements in cases alleging discrimination on the basis of race, national origin and family status.
- In Sunnyvale, Steve Pavlina reportedly steered prospective tenants of Indian origin away from nicer, remodeled units and toward less desirable apartments.
And right here in Fresno, father-son pair John and David Hovannisian, doing business as JD Home Rentals, own hundreds of rental units and are notorious for substandard conditions that are hazardous for the health and well-being of tenants.
Last year, Rev. Sharon Stanley of the Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries (FIRM) showed reporters a bag full of roaches collected from one apartment in an infested apartment complex on Lowe Avenue in southeast Fresno. A media campaign exposed the problem, bringing much-needed public attention to the plight of tenants, and pressured JD Home Rentals to take steps to address the substandard housing conditions. However, the landlord family who has forced countless families to endure deplorable living conditions has yet to take responsibility for their callous business practices.
Problems with JD Home Rentals date back years. Court records show David Hovannisian as a party to numerous lawsuits regarding his rental properties throughout the 1990s and beyond. According to a 2006 ABC news investigation, hundreds of complaints related to cleanliness, safety and habitability have been filed against the landlord.
When it comes to standards of habitability of a rental property, California tenants have the right, at minimum, to
- Effective waterproofing and weather protection of roof and exterior walls.
- Plumbing and gas facilities that are maintained in good working order.
- A water supply that produces hot and cold running water and is connected to a sewage disposal system.
- Heating facilities.
- Electrical lighting.
- A clean and sanitary building, property grounds and common areas.
- An adequate number of trash receptacles.
- Tenants must learn how to safely assert their rights in order to maintain these basic standards of habitability for a clean and healthy home. If your rights are being violated, follow these steps:
- Submit repair and maintenance requests in writing. If possible, personally deliver the request to an office and send it by certified mail, return receipt requested. Keep a copy of all files, and be sure to include an expectation for response time.
- Document uninhabitable conditions in writing and with photos.
- Document, in writing, verbal conversations and harassment experienced, if any.
- Report code violations to the City of Fresno’s Code Enforcement Division.
For more information, call our hotline at 888-495-8020 or review our Web site’s “Laws and Resources” section. To connect to a local group in Fresno, visit our online directory at www.tenantstogether.org/directory. For legal advice, contact Central California Legal Services, a legal services organization, at 559-570-1200 or hire an attorney.
Irresponsible landlords must clean up their act or prepare for a public shaming. Tenants Together members across the state will no longer suffer the consequences of renting from a bad landlord. There are many ways to protect, assert and expand tenant rights in your community, and you can start by joining the Fresno Tenant Action Group. For more information, call 888-495-8020 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.