Pay to stay: Tenants of south Sacramento apartment complex face rising rents, complain of roach and mold issues
Cedar Ridge Apartments fell through the cracks of city’s inspection program
Nancy Avalos watched as her 5- and 8-year-old daughters danced and chased each other. Their laughter filled the living room. “My daughters don’t want to move out,” Avalos said in Spanish. Her voice broke. “I feel like I’ve let them down.”
Avalos moved to Cedar Ridge Apartments six years ago. After sharing a living room of an apartment together, the single mother wanted to give her three daughters room to play and moved to a place they could call their own.
But now the family is moving out of its two-bedroom apartment, after Avalos’ monthly rent rose from $802 to $1,086.
For Avalos and her neighbors, sharp rent and utility bill increases hit the past two months as the property owner, Torrance-based Cedar Ridge Apartments LP, keeps pace with rising market rates. For the largely Spanish-speaking residents of the south Sacramento apartment complex, their costs have surged in spite of alleged roach infestations, mold and other maintenance issues. Tenants claim these issues festered while the landlord hiked rents and the problems fell through the cracks of the city’s inspection program.
“I only came here with the clothes I had. I didn’t bring bugs with me,” Avalos said through a translator.
During a recent visit, another Cedar Ridge tenant showed the plastic bins she used to hold serving utensils rather than her kitchen cabinets because of pest control issues. She says she recently threw out a 50-pound bag of rice after finding bugs in it.
The tenant asked to remain anonymous, because she feared that property management might retaliate against her by not responding to her maintenance requests.
Cedar Ridge management didn’t respond to a request for comment. But Jim Lofgren of the Rental Housing Association defended the Mack Road complex, saying it recently survived a city code visit without any violations being cited against management.
But city officials aren’t done taking a look at Cedar Ridge. SN&R found that an expected city inspection is long overdue.
City officials last conducted a full inspection of Cedar Ridge six years ago, around the time that the complex’s owner tried and failed to attain “self-certification” status through the city, said Code and Housing Enforcement Chief Carl Simpson.
The city’s Rental Housing Inspection Program allows landlords to self-certify that there are no code violations if all units pass an inspection by on-site maintenance staff. Ninety percent of the 65,000 rental units in the city have passed this self-reporting requirement. But not Cedar Ridge. In 2011, 20 percent of its units failed to pass an internal review, Simpson said.
That means the city is still responsible for conducting routine inspections at Cedar Ridge, which are expected to be be annual, according to the city’s rental inspection website. But with a staff of 20 inspectors across two departments, “annual is just not possible,” Simpson said.
“We really have to prioritize,” Simpson added. “The reality is there are other rental units that look a lot worse than Cedar Ridge.”
In the absence of regular inspections, the only recourse for tenants has been to complain. But several Cedar Ridge tenants told SN&R their complaints were met with disrespect and unresponsiveness from on-site management.
Nevertheless, records obtained by the Sacramento Housing Alliance showed some tenants did file complaints with code enforcement, several of which mentioned roaches and mold issues. Most of these recent complaints were resolved as “unfounded” after residents were either not home during announced visits or didn’t list their apartment numbers, according to SHA’s records request.
The complex was fined $11,698 in 2012 for building violations concerning 16 units, including water and other types of damage to drywall, decks and other areas, according to a Code Enforcement report obtained by the Sacramento Housing Alliance.
After tenants spoke out at a City Council meeting earlier this month, Councilman Larry Carr performed a walk-through of three apartment units. The District 8 representative was accompanied by city code enforcement and building officials, Cedar Ridge management, and representatives from the Rental Housing Association of Sacramento Valley and the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, a nonprofit that advocates for tenants.
According to ACCE, management blamed the tenants for the mold issues and the city responded by taking samples to test later.
But Carr seemed concerned.
“The areas with moisture coming in through the windows—black stuff—I don’t know if it was mold or not. It didn’t look good,” Carr told SN&R. “I don’t think those units are being inspected annually as required. But I think they will be going forward.”
A week after hearing from tenants and advocates at the council meeting, Carr said progress was being made.
“The mold, the windows not repaired, the roaches, the deteriorated situation in the apartments—we’ve taken a look at it,” Carr said. “Some of the rents have been raised from $750 a month to $1,100 a month. It creates a burden on some of the people there. We’ve also spoken with the city attorney to see what we can do to prevent gouging of people’s rent.”
Carr said he is working on bringing utility discounts to Cedar Ridge tenants and that the landlord is inspecting all the units there by the end of this month. Carr also believed any tenant who wished to move to a rehabilitated unit would be able to do so.
If there are other issues, Simpson said tenants shouldn’t hesitate to report their complaints to 311.
Lofgren of the Rental Housing Association encouraged the city to give tenants inspection forms in languages other than English, too.
City staff were scheduled to return on Tuesday to examine the building’s exterior. Code enforcement is also planning to inspect 10 percent of the 274 units next month. If any violations are found, that would trigger a full building inspection that the property owner would have to pay for.
But management will know in advance which units will be inspected.
Even with all the alleged issues, Avalos says she would have stayed if she could.
A cook at a Mexican restaurant near the Capitol, Avalos is moving this week to a house she and her daughters will be sharing with older housemates. The family of four will have two rooms in the home, where Avalos worries her daughters will be unable to play as freely as they do now.
For Avalos, it’s a step backward on her personal journey to the American dream.
“Here we have space—it could be better, but they can play here,” Avalos said of her Cedar Ridge apartment. “Now that we’re renting two rooms with elderly people, I feel they won’t be able to enjoy it.”