The owner of Manchester Arms — the Fresno apartment complex that has been spotlighted for numerous code violations in the past months — has served eviction notices to some of those who spoke to The Fresno Bee and changed the name of the complex to Villa La Esperanza, which translates to “Village of Hope.”

Property owners Gutierrez and Son also informed tenants, via a letter on July 8, that surveillance at the property will increase when residents request maintenance work.

According to the letter, maintenance requests will only be accepted via email, and maintenance workers have been instructed to turn on their audio recording while on the property. Body cams will be implemented for maintenance workers and vendors, and “if and when a negative exchange is encountered, they will document on said audio recording the apartment number that was involved.”

The letter threatens that management will “go as far as an eviction” as a result of a negative encounter.

The letter states that the heavy surveillance measures are in response to tenants allegedly yelling at some maintenance workers, as well as to protect tenants and maintenance workers. The letter does not state what caused any verbal altercations, nor does it provide any further details.

“A lot of things have gotten worse,” said a mother of four who requested anonymity for fear of further retaliation. “A lot of us are getting the boot because we spoke with the city or we let the city inside in the first place.”

The city of Fresno conducted a reinspection at the Manchester Arms apartment complex on June 17, about two months after finding more than 250 health and safety violations as a result of a Fresnoland/Fresno Bee investigation. A Bee reporter and photographer were present during the inspection; however, a representative of the property owners ordered the reporter and later the photographer to leave.

While tenants say many code violations have been resolved, rent increases, eviction notices, stricter parking restrictions and intimidation from management have ramped up.

The Bee requested a summary of Code Enforcement’s June 17 inspection and is set to receive those documents by July 26, according to Code Enforcement.

“Progress has occurred at the complex, and our team is working to ensure that progress continues,” Rodney Horton wrote in a statement. He added that inspectors plan to meet with property owner Joel Gutierrez to discuss a plan to address violations that remain.

Is it legal to require in-home surveillance for maintenance?

Brandi Snow, attorney for Central California Legal Services, said the July 8 notice to tenants raises several concerns, including how an email-only maintenance request system may hinder the ability of tenants without email access to report an issue.

“I’d be particularly concerned if it’s an emergency, if my apartment was flooding … I don’t want to send an email and wait until someone sees it and responds,” Snow said.

She added, “If I were in court on behalf of someone who got this notice and was denied a repair, I’d say, ‘That’s unduly burdensome that there is only one way to report a maintenance problem’.”

Another concern raised by Snow is the landlord’s requirement that maintenance will only make repairs if tenants agree to be recorded, especially if body cams are implemented.

“We have a two-party consent state,” Snow said. “I would be completely comfortable arguing to a judge that ‘No, a resident does not have to allow someone to take video images inside their home … just in order to have the landlord’s legal obligation to maintain a habitable residence fulfilled.’”

Snow said she has never seen a landlord attempt to add surveillance as a requirement for maintenance.

“That doesn’t mean it’s never been done,” Snow said. “But we’re not aware of this happening anywhere in the area.”

Snow said tenants who experience maintenance-related issues as a result of this notice can contact CCLS.

“Sometimes it has to get to a certain point before we are able to jump in, but we can certainly analyze if we are at that point or what tenants should be looking out for,” she said.

Snow said as of July, two renters at Manchester Arms have retained legal counsel; both are still living at the property.

Property owner Gutierrez hung up when a reporter attempted to contact him and has ignored several emailed requests. Property manager Rob Bratton and the property manager immediately before him declined requests for comment.

Tenant says issues were fixed, but protocol wasn’t followed

Tenant Ericha Lopez said that after code enforcement officers found several smoke detectors placed in the wrong locations, maintenance came to fix the issue, but that she did not receive a 24-hour notice.

“I feel like I have to let them in even without a 24-hour notice if I want anything to get fixed,” Lopez said.

She said since The Bee’s investigation and code enforcement’s activity, the landlord has instituted a rent increase, issued a notice that cars without parking permits would be towed and is rumored to have called Fresno Child Protective Services on other families which has made her fearful.

Lopez said that in April, she received a notice that her rent would increase from $945 to $1,043 starting on July 1.

Landlord sends eviction notices

According to California housing laws, it is unlawful to retaliate against tenants because they notified code enforcement about habitability conditions.

However, because landlord and tenant cases are a civil matter, the city’s code enforcement division cannot step in if the law is broken. The burden to obtain legal counsel, which can be costly and unachievable for many, falls on tenants.

“I can get in more trouble for jaywalking in downtown Fresno than a landlord who breaks the law,” William Talkington, a longtime Manchester Arms resident, said.

Talkington, who is represented by CCLS, said the landlord blocked his May rent payment via Venmo and returned the rent check he sent when the Venmo payment didn’t go through.

Talkington also received two eviction notices — one on April 22 which was voided because it did not give a proper time frame to move out, and another on May 29 which he has decided not to challenge.

He has until Aug. 31 to vacate his home of 17 years, he said. Neither of the notices provided a reason for the termination of tenancy.

“I don’t know if it’s because I spoke with The Fresno Bee or if it’s because my sister is the ex-manager,” Talkington said regarding the eviction notices. Talkington’s sister Laura Denies, who also lived at the property, quit as manager in December 2019, following a leukemia diagnosis.

Talkington said he only wanted to challenge the notice to stay close to his sister; however, Denies died from leukemia on June 25.

Claudio Hughes, a former resident who went more than 60 days without a working stove at the complex, said he, too, received an eviction notice in early June and has since been locked out. He said he was only given nine days to move out.

“This man is evil; this man is a snake,” Hughes said of Gutierrez. “He’s a slumlord.”

The mother of four who requested anonymity said she has received several eviction notices — the latest one, sent to her May 29, gives her until Aug. 31 to find a new place to live. She has lived at Manchester Arms for seven years “with no problems until he (Gutierrez) became the owner,” she said.

“I don’t even like being here. I don’t feel comfortable here; I don’t feel my kids are safe here,” she said. “Now he is retaliating using my kids because he has no real reason to be bothering me.”

She has looked to move elsewhere but saving for a deposit is difficult.

Gutierrez tells Fresno Housing he will not accept housing assistance

While some tenants received eviction notices after speaking with The Bee, Gutierrez had plans to evict tenants who relied on Section 8 housing vouchers even prior to the investigation’s publication.

“You have tenants of ours who have applied with your program and are or will be going under eviction. We will not be taking this program in our community for these applications once eviction has commenced in which case one should be concluded soon with writ and sheriff assistance,” said Gutierrez in an email to Fresno Housing Authority on March 22. The email was shared with The Bee by Denies, who was copied.

A Fresno Housing Authority official told The Bee that the agency informed Gutierrez that it is illegal to discriminate against an applicant or deny an application to a person who uses a housing voucher under SB329 and SB322.

As of July 9, Fresno Housing Authority had eight housing assistant contracts in Manchester Arms; two have received 90-day notices.

“(Fresno Housing) does not get involved with the legal eviction process, as it is a judgment entered into by the courts,” Fresno Housing communications manager Brandi Johnson wrote in an email to The Bee. “(Fresno Housing) will honor the judgment.”

When The Bee first inquired about housing assistance in March, Fresno Housing had 10 contracts at the property.

Resources for renters

Snow said renters who have received an eviction notice can call CCLS at 800-675-8001. She said a common misconception is that the current COVID-19 eviction protections cover all evictions, which is not the case.


Laura Denies, a long-time tenant at Manchester Arms and former property manager, notified The Bee in early February about unresolved issues at the apartment complex and rent increases during the pandemic. She wanted better for her community. Denies quit as property manager in December 2019 following a cancer diagnosis but she did not stop caring for tenants. She passed away of Leukemia on June 25. She was surrounded by loved ones when she passed.

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Cassandra is a housing and engagement reporter with Fresnoland.