By Sister Kate (Christine Meeusen)
Manco Abbott, the Company that owns the historic Tioga Apartment Building in Merced, was reeling from a theft by its own building manager. According to the news reports, he ran off with $39,000. That happened in January of this year. In March, the new building manager sent letters to all the tenants with demands to pay fictitious amounts, different amounts for different tenants, with various and sundry reasons. And the tenants were given another surprise: “Pay in three days or get out.” Manco Abbott’s official response was that there is an “ongoing investigation” of the activities at the Tioga.
What happened next is that Merced Tenants Together stepped in. With a little press exposure, the demand letters were rescinded with an apology from management. As Susan Bouscaren explained, “Tenants Together didn’t quit after that minor victory. We then turned our attention to the habitability issues plaguing the tenants of the Tioga.
“By April 10th, the local chapter of Tenants Together had formed a tenants association with the Tioga residents and weekly meetings began. One of the tenants, Marina, tried to get code enforcement involved right up front and Kelly Roseman, the current enforcer for Merced, told Marina that the city doesn’t have the budget to inspect each apartment. And that’s where this started for us.
“A week later,” Bouscaren continued, “we went back to Kelly and this time she told us it would be necessary for each tenant to put their individual complaints in writing to the city. So we took it to City Council.”
At the April 15 City Council meeting, Tenants Together asked for relief from this step for the residents, as the problem is obvious and more documentation is not helping. They reminded the City Council that the cockroaches and rats are multiplying, the air isn’t getting better, the mold is still spreading and the plumbing leaks are still leaking. The City Council said it would look into the situation.
At the May 6 meeting, the City Council had nothing new to report. A member of the Tioga Tenants Association, however, presented each Council member, the city attorney and the city manager with a petition from the residents of the Tioga giving authorization to the city to inspect the properties of the tenants who had signed.
“We went back to City Council on the 20th of May,” said Bouscaren. “And all this while, we have been meeting every week at the Tioga.”
In a May 10 article in the Merced Sun Star, David Gonzalves, Merced’s director of development services, was quoted as saying, “I think we’ll get to the bottom of it and find out what the real issue is. The owner’s been put on notice. They’ve been very cooperative. And it sounds like they have a game plan.”
About the same time, the attorney from Tenants Together sent a letter to Merced’s city enforcement office demanding that it inspect the entire Tioga within five days.
Despite Gonzalves’ representation of there being a game plan in place, Bouscaren reported that Merced’s Tenants Together “heard nothing from code enforcement during all this time, until Senator [Anthony] Cannella’s office called code enforcement’s office and asked them to contact us with an update as to what is going on. Subsequently, Mike Stevenson, from the City Code Enforcement office, did follow up with us and he stated that they are hoping to resolve the issues with the Tioga informally, with management.”
“As of today,” said Bouscaren, “Eight of the residents have so far called to request inspections, three have been contacted by code enforcement, two inspections were done and no one else has heard from them. And this shouldn’t even be necessary; they know an entire inspection is required. We’ve been going at this emergency health and safety issue for two months full steam, and nothing is happening. If you ask me, I believe that code enforcement and Manco Abbott are working together—and it doesn’t seem like that cooperation is good for the Tioga.”
Christine Meeusen lives in Merced. Contact her at email@example.com.