This Renter Complained About A Gas Leak - Code Enforcement Gave Her 72 Hours To Leave
It’s state law that residences need heating and electricity, and the building has to be in good condition to be habitable. While this sounds straightforward, those who rent their homes sometimes struggle with landlords who are unresponsive and don’t make the proper repairs.
That’s what happened to Candace Nilo, a mother of four, who grew up in Farmersville. Her first rental home was a two-bedroom house in town. She moved in at the age of 20, and lived there for nine years.
In a visit to the home earlier this week, she pointed out papers stapled to the door frames.
“Do you see the warning signs?” Nilo asked. They read, “Danger! Do Not Enter. Unsafe to Occupy.”
The 30-year-old hasn’t lived there since October 8, when code inspectors from the City of Farmersville and Tulare County put up the signs and deemed the home unsafe to live in. Nilo called them after the landlord said it would take a few days to fix a gas leak. She was already without hot water, having called her utility company to shut off the gas. In their report, inspectors said the house was dilapidated.
“You see there on the porch where they started to do the roof, but never painted, so then that can cause mold and mildew,” Nilo said as she walked around the home. “The porch was falling, you see how they only put two of the two-by-fours. You see how the house is cracking.” She pointed to a crack in the foundation stretching across from a corner of the home.
She also pointed out problems she lived with for years.
“You see, right there? The crack in that window? That was there when I moved in,” Nilo said. There's an old piece of tape placed over it, no longer sticky and cracked itself.
The owners are refurbishing the home.
“They're having to completely redo the bathroom floor, where it was rotted, that's where my bathtub was,” Nilo said, as she pointed to a pile in the backyard. The bathroom is gone, and there’s a pile of wood, some of it moldy, next to a still-standing wall of the structure.
“I brought all my kids home here. This is a big backyard. I had a wedding reception back here in 2012,” Nilo said, tearing up. “It's really sad, because I just wanted them to fix it, so I could leave when I was ready to leave.”
When she moved into this home in 2010, Nilo’s rent was $450. “I paid my rent, I wasn't a bad person,” she said.
But after multiple bad repair jobs from the landlord, Nilo called code inspectors, who eventually “red-tagged” the home in October.
“I didn't want to be told, ‘Hey, you got to do your goodbyes, you got to get your kids somewhere to go and have all your stuff out in 72 hours.’ Especially after paying my rent, you know, it’s not like I was evicted,” she said.
Nilo said she would have stayed if the home was repaired. She was saving for a down payment on a house. But after her Farmersville house was “red-tagged,” she had to use her savings to pay for a U-Haul, a storage unit, and almost a month’s stay at a motel while she searched for a new place. She said she applied for 11 different rentals.
According to state law, when code enforcement decides a home isn’t safe and tenants have to vacate, landlords are obligated to help pay the relocation costs, which is at least two months of fair market rent in the area. However, that didn’t happen for Candace Nilo, and that’s not uncommon.
“The county declares that the tenant is eligible, that the landlord pays the relocation fees, and if they don't, then the tenant ends up having to go to court to get them,” said Sara Hedgpeth-Harris. She’s head of the housing team at Central California Legal Services, or CCLS.
“Of course, you can never get that kind of money in time to actually be useful in relocating, so it’s really problematic for really low-income tenants finding that money,” Hedgpeth-Harris said.
She added that sometimes renters move from one substandard home to another, because there isn’t enough available, affordable housing in the San Joaquin Valley. Hedgpeth-Harris was on a commission in the mid-2000s to build more housing in the city of Fresno.
“All sorts of plans were provided to the mayor, and to the city council as a result of those efforts, and it was just one more plan that went in a binder, up on a shelf, and really nothing was done.”
While cities continue to lack affordable housing, code enforcement departments, like the one in Tulare County, are stretched thin.
“We're very short-staffed,” said Hector Ramos, building and housing manager for Tulare County. “I wish we had more staff to be able to go out there and look for these dangerous buildings, but we're complaint based and we get these calls coming in.”
He said many people don’t realize they have the right to complain.
“There are plenty of complaints out there that we don't receive, and the conditions are probably very bad, but due to the fact that they're not well informed of their rights, they continue to live in those conditions,” he said.
And, he said, Tulare County doesn’t keep track of which landlords are negligent.
“Unfortunately we don't know who's out there renting, and who the good or the bad ones really are. I can’t say there’s, you know, one company in particular that stands out that we’ve had multiple complaints on. It varies.”
We reached out to Home Rentals Company, which manages the Farmersville home where Candace Nilo lived. But the person who answered said the company has no comment.
Nilo is one of the few who does know her rights, and she’s seeking legal help through CCLS.
“I easily could let it go, because, do I have time to go to court? No. Do I want to deal with court? No,” she said. “But if I let it go, how many more people are they gonna do it to, you know? How many more people are gonna have to feel like I felt? It's not okay.”
Nilo also did find a better rental home just one city over in Visalia. It’s bigger, so she and her four kids have more room to spread out. But the rent? She now pays $400 dollars more than she did just three months ago.