BY THE MEADOWBROOK TENANT ASSOCIATION
As rents continue to increase across the San Joaquin Valley, renters are pulling together to form tenant unions to protect themselves from negligent and exploitative landlords. This is exactly what is happening at one tucked away apartment complex in central Fresno. In the six months since its tenant association was formed and began gathering resident concerns, owners and managers have refused to recognize the association and hold so much as an initial meeting.
From Blissful to Bleak
A normal day in the life of the residents of Meadowbrook Apartments (near Shaw and Millbrook avenues) includes ignored maintenance requests, double rent charges, mail theft leading to identify theft, vehicle break-ins, vandalism, rodents, uncollected trash piling up, animal waste, dilapidated buildings and fencing, and property “managers” who do little other than collect rent.
Advertised as a secure, gated community, one or more of the complex’s gates are often broken at any one time, leading to general decline in not only the appearance but also the feeling among residents about the complex.
It was not always this way. Many residents remember when Meadowbrook was considered to be one of the nicer apartment complexes in the area, full of long-term tenants who enjoyed the location, amenities and an atmosphere of shared community. The perceived vibrancy of this complex did not seem attributable to any particular difficult or secret method.
With the transition to Apartment Rentals LLC, tenants hoped that their way of living would continue. However, in the four years since the property changed hands and was turned over to this company, the beauty of the apartment complex has slowly faded away. Where there was once beautiful grass, there are now dead spots and clovers. Requests for maintenance seem to disappear into a black hole and often go unaddressed for months or years.
Many of the tenants are longtime residents who remember what it was like before the property was sold four years ago. In just a few years, the apartment complex went from blissful to bleak.
“The difference is night and day,” complained one disabled resident, who cited issues with maintaining accommodations such as handrails and other small items that landlords are required to provide.
Not only have the past few years seen the quality of life and services rapidly decline, but Apartment Rentals LLC has also been consistently gouging tenants with onerous fees and a host of unprofessional business practices, while consistently raising the rent to the maximum allowed by law.
At the core of resident complaints, aside from the specific issues mentioned, is the general disregard Meadowbrook residents feel from on-site management and the corporate office that oversees it.
“Imagine your rent is constantly being raised, and yet things are falling apart. The trash has not been picked up in weeks! There are sanitation and safety issues all around and all they care about is squeezing more money from us,” says tenant organizer and local college professor Joshua Shurley, adding that “the worst aspect of all of this is not even the lack of services and response, it is the blatant disrespect.”
In a recent survey of residents by tenant organizers in conjunction with Fresno Tenants Together, this sentiment was a constant refrain echoed by dozens of the tenants they spoke to. The new managers have doubled late fees and increased the use of “pay or quit” notices as justifications for levying these exorbitant fees for specious reasons.
Pattern of Mismanagement
Maintenance issues continue to be an ongoing source of stress for tenants experiencing increasing rent demands and a marked decline in services. One such renter had experienced an electrical fire and needed siding replaced. More than two years later, the fire damage remains.
Security cameras once existed but now are inoperable, leaving no recourse to the massive increase in vehicle break-ins and car thefts that have occurred. On-site managers have placated tenants by claiming they have reported mail theft issues to the post office. Yet, when tenant organizers contacted U.S. postal investigators to follow up, they learned that no such contact had ever been made with their office.
Far from a one-off incident, this brushing off of resident concerns is an established pattern that Meadowbrook residents are all too familiar with. Pushing back against management has often seen what many perceive as retaliatory practices.
Fed Up Tenants Organize
The Meadowbrook Apartments complex is by no means the worst example of negligent landlords in the Central Valley.
“We are increasingly seeing more upscale properties experience rapid decline as landlords feel they can get away with things they previously could not,” said Shar Thompson, Central Valley regional coordinator of Tenants Together (tenantstogether.org), a statewide nonprofit dedicated to housing justice issues, explaining that intransigence in dealing with tenant unions is a common ploy that landlords engage in and needs to stop.
At some point, enough is enough. Tenant unions are experiencing a wave of success throughout not only in the Central Valley but also across California and the nation.
Apartment Rentals LLC manages about 20 other such properties in the area, which are listed as being owned by David H. Hussain. It is unclear to what degree these issues are understood by Hussain and how much of these disturbing business practices are the result of Apartment Rentals LLC.
As is typical with negligent landlords, the management company—in this case, Apartment Rentals LLC—refuses to recognize the newly formed tenant association and refuses to engage in open dialogue that might lead to the landlord being held accountable.
“As individuals, they can lie to us, ignore us and never lift a finger. But as a group, they know they can’t keep getting away with this. Of course, they refuse to meet!” stated one resident who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.