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Fresnoland, a team of journalists reporting on housing, water and neighborhood inequality at The Fresno Bee, is reporting on the city’s failure to protect renters from unhealthy conditions in low-income housing. Read the stories and follow this investigation here.

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The city of Fresno’s code enforcement officers found evidence of “substantial substandard housing conditions” at the 41-unit Manchester Arms apartment complex when they inspected the property this week, records show.

Among the findings: broken windows, significant calls for police service, evidence of the presence of mold, damaged AC unit vent screen, overgrown vegetation, presence of junk and rubbish, rain gutter spouts in a state of disrepair, and substandard electrical issues, according to an Anti-Slum Enforcement Team status report published Thursday.

Monthly rents for new tenants at the complex are listed at $900 to $1,200 on Apartments.com.

Approximately 50 city staff descended on the complex on N. Effie Street on Tuesday morning, following a Fresno Bee investigation that uncovered how city code enforcement failed to protect residents there from health and safety issues.

In the last few days, code enforcement officers and building inspectors examined structures on the property, inspected 17 units, and posted a notice of intent to inspect 25 additional units on April 8.

Results of internal inspections have not yet been released.

Until recently, code enforcement had not increased enforcement or abatement efforts after the apartment complex failed a baseline inspection in January 2020.

Officers responded to more than a dozen tenant complaints in just over the last two years, and some maintenance issues were fixed. But, major code violations went unaddressed and the property owner was never fined or cited. The Fresno City Council oversees the code enforcement division.

Property owner Joel Gutierrez of Gutierrez & Son LP defended his maintenance of the building to The Bee when first confronted with tenant complaints in a March 17 phone call. He has not responded to recent requests for comment.

“We are minority owners that want to improve the community,” Gutierrez said. “We took a shithole and we revitalized it.”

The doorway of a bathroom in an apartment at Manchester Arms shows the appearance of mold and mildew buildup, as seen March 22, 2021. Monica Vaughan

“It’s still a shithole,” resident Rena Sahagun said in response to Gutierrez’s comment. Sahagun lives with her four boys in a three-bedroom apartment in the complex, where current rents range from around $700 to $1,000.

She and other tenants told The Bee they worry about retaliation for requesting repairs or calling code enforcement. With a lack of affordable housing options in Fresno, residents said they fear homelessness if they are evicted or otherwise forced out.

The apartment complex should receive heightened enforcement and abatement actions since it was added to the city’s “slum list” at the request of City Councilmember Nelson Esparza, who represents the district. The Bee alerted him to the issues on March 25, and he met with tenants and visited the complex a few days later.

Seven households in the complex have declined city inspections, according to a staff member in Esparza’s office.

The notices of intent posted around the complex Thursday are meant to reassure tenants who have concerns about retaliation because it’s going to every unit that has not yet been inspected. He said it also provides tenants time to put away anything they don’t want city officials to see.

If further inspections are not allowed, the city may choose to acquire warrants to conduct additional inspections.

“I wish my council office could have heard from these tenants directly on what they were experiencing, though I understand the fear many have had in coming forward,” Esparza said. “We won’t tolerate slum conditions.”

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