David Calderon looked at a sheath of eviction notices Thursday morning on the kitchen table of his John Street apartment in Salinas where he has lived with his family of three for 15 years.
While he and other families have gotten eviction notices, other residents of the buildings have been asked to pay more rent — they say all because they complained about health and building code violations.
The building’s owners of Santa Clara (California) Realty strongly deny the evictions and rent increases are retaliatory. They claim the complaints are because residents don’t want to pay the higher rents.
Thirteen adults and three children, one toting a skateboard, took to the sidewalks in front of 535/551 John Street with colorful protest signs as they chanted “No mas cucarachas (no more cockroaches)” and “No tenemos miedo (we are not afraid).”
Calderon said the building’s owner built a storage shed for paint and other liquid materials adjacent to the bedroom where his teenage sons, 15 and 18, used to sleep — and where he no longer allows them to sleep.
“All this was grass and where my kids (used to) play,” said Calderon, gesturing out the window to show a reporter where the shed now stands — built a year ago. Calderon is employed mowing lawns at a local golf course.
The residents are represented by Juan Uranga, executive director and an attorney with the Center for Community Advocacy, who said he thought he had a deal worked out with the landlords to negotiate rent increases after violations were addressed, but it fell through.
What is clear is that the buildings had heath and building code violations, according to the Monterey County Health Department and the city of Salinas.
“We did receive a complaint about cockroaches,” health department spokeswoman Karen Smith said.
One complaint was about egress — or safety exits — from what she called “a sleeping area.” That was fixed and there were other minor issues, said Gowin, without elaborating. The case is open because there are still permits for projects at the apartments, said Gowin.
The rent increase notices were sent out before complaints were made to county and city officials, building owner Carlos M. Bernardo of Santa Clara Realty said Thursday in a telephone interview.
“That’s when they (residents) started finding things to complain about,” Bernardo said. “We have to be competitive” on the rents, he said, adding they have been raised from the $800-$850 range to $950 per month.
The city told him to remove the shed which has been modified to basically “a patio,” Bernardo said. “We are still working with the city to resolve that.”
Asked at an impromptu press conference at the protest if the evictions came after the complaints, Uranga responded “absolutely.”
Uranga said he wants the owner, Antonio M. Avelar, the partner in Santa Clara Realty he has been dealing with, to rescind the eviction notices and negotiate any rent increases with the tenants.
“If that doesn’t work I will represent the families in court,” he said.
The protesters chanted in Spanish what they want. “Justice — now.”
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