By Leah Simon-Weisberg
More than 50% of the residents of Fresno are tenants. This silent majority is about to make some noise.
Tenants Together, California’s statewide organization for renters’ rights, is working with Fresno tenants to organize and assert their rights to safe, decent and affordable rental housing. The organization has been working in the Central Valley for nearly five years and has a growing base of members.
“We are appalled by the living conditions Fresno tenants are forced to endure,” commented Dean Preston, executive director of Tenants Together. “Our message to Fresno’s bad landlords is simple: Clean up your act. If you don’t, we’ll use every tool at our disposal to hold you accountable and protect and empower Fresno tenants.”
There are signs of progress. Elaine Robles-McGraw has taken over as community revitalization division manager placing her in charge of code enforcement for the entire City of Fresno. Robles-McGraw has deep ties to the community. We are hopeful that under her leadership she will ensure that the quality of Fresno’s rental housing will improve and slumlords will be forced to comply with code requirements for safe, habitable housing.
Assessor/Recorder Paul Dictos, CPA, recently unveiled a new outreach program for tenants and homeowners in properties facing foreclosure. Tenants Together applauds Dictos’ efforts and is proud to have worked with the assessor/recorder to make sure tenants know their rights before banks and investors take over at foreclosure. Educational letters from Dictos started going out in August.
Meanwhile, Tenants Together has stepped up its efforts to educate and empower Fresno renters. Tenants Together has been holding monthly Fresno meet-ups at which tenants can learn about their rights and how to get involved. The meet-ups include a legal clinic, spearheaded by legal director Leah Simon-Weisberg, where tenants can get advice from a lawyer about their rights.
At the July Fresno Tenants Together meet-up, attendees learned about strategies to get necessary repairs completed by their landlord. A code enforcement officer from the City of Fresno Community Revitalization Division spoke about the role of his office. Tenants learned more about the process and how to more effectively work with the City of Fresno to improve their living conditions.
Merced renters came to update Fresno renters on the battle over the just cause for eviction law, reflected in an emerging regional tenant rights movement. Merced Tenants Together members in 2011 successfully advocated for a just cause for eviction law to protect renters from eviction from foreclosed properties. This was the region’s first local tenant protection law. In a recent referendum effort to save the law from repeal, more registered Merced voters signed a petition to preserve the law than voted to elect Merced’s current, right-wing mayor. Clearly, renters have become a force to be reckoned with in the Central Valley.
Fresno members of Tenants Together are discussing next steps for Fresno. All tenants are welcome to attend the monthly meet-ups. They take place the second Thursday of every month from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.tenantstogether.org/fresno. If you have questions about your rights as a tenant, call the Tenants Together hotline at 1-888-495-8020.
Leah Simon-Weisberg is the legal director of Tenants Together. Tenants Together is California’s statewide organization for renters’ rights.