Here are four important things you need to know from The Fresno Bee’s five-month investigation of the Manchester Arms apartment complex.

City Code enforcement failed tenants

The Fresno apartment complex was on the city code enforcement’s radar long before March 29, when the The Bee published its first story about Manchester Arms. The Bee investigation found that code enforcement had been slow to respond, allowed delays in maintenance and failed to follow up in a timely manner on multiple occasions — allowing for tenants to live in unhealthy living conditions.

In March, parts of a building were literally crumbling; in at least three apartments, water leaked, through tiles and floorboards, in kitchens and bathrooms, into apartments below, and hot water for 21 units had been shut off without notification six times between April 2021 and December 2019. Additionally,

  • One tenant whose apartment was flooded was told by the landlord that he could not help because she didn’t have renter’s insurance.
  • One went without a stove for more than 60 days, then reportedly received a cockroach-infested replacement before receiving one he could use.
  • Another tenant began withholding rent in October 2020 because the landlord had not addressed the broken heater, broken stove top and mold in her apartment and was evicted.
  • Another has had to pay for new locks on her mailbox three times; the toilet and kitchen in her upstairs unit weren’t properly sealed.

Of the 14 people who filed complaints with code enforcement since Joel Gutierrez of Gutierrez and Son became owner, only five cases were resolved within about a week. Five other cases took more than a month to close; one took about three weeks to resolve; two others were closed by code enforcement, and one had been ongoing when the investigation was published.

Manchester Arms also failed its proactive baseline inspection in early 2020, which was conducted in accordance with the Rental Housing Improvement Act. Follow-up inspections were not conducted, in part because of COVID-19.

Code enforcement scheduled a follow-up baseline inspection only after The Bee interviewed the agency about the property in March 2021.

Code enforcement swarms complex

The day after The Bee’s investigation was published, more than 50 code enforcement officers swarmed the complex. In the weeks that followed, all 41 units were inspected — some through a court-ordered inspection warrant. The complex was added to the city’s anti-slum task force list on March 30.

The inspections identified more than 250 code violations — including fire risks from missing smoke detectors and hazardous electrical issues.

The landlord had until mid-June to resolve all issues. A followup inspection was conducted on June 17 and 29, according to the ASET weekly report. Rodney Horton, Fresno’s neighborhood and revitalization manager, wrote in a statement, “Progress has occurred at the complex, and our team is working to ensure that progress continues.”

The Bee is expected to receive documents showing code enforcement’s summary of the June 17 reinspection on July 26.

City implements policy changes

In addition to a strong code enforcement showing, City Council Vice President Nelson Esparza, who oversees District 7 where Manchester Arms is located, met with Manchester Arms tenants and later introduced two co-sponsored resolutions to strengthen tenant protections. Both resolutions were adopted.

One was the eviction protection program, which proposed a middle ground between a full right to counsel program and a mediation-only program. The EPP provides tenants who may have been evicted unlawfully will have access to free legal counsel. The program has yet to be implemented.

The other amended the 2017 Rental Housing Improvement Act, allowing code enforcement to inspect additional units when a property fails a baseline inspection; reduce the time landlords are granted to make corrections, and to issue penalties to landlords who fail to make corrections in a timely manner, among other changes.

Manchester arms gets a new name, but intimidation continues

Tenants say that while the landlord has resolved many code violations, he has escalated on other fronts, including increasing rent, sending eviction notices, enforcing stricter parking restrictions and intimidating tenants.

Additionally, tenants at Manchester Arms received notice that the name of the complex was changing to Villa la Esperanza, which translates to “village of hope,” and that there would be increased surveillance at the property during maintenance repairs.

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.

Brandi Snow, attorney for Central California Legal Services, said the July 8 notice to tenants raises concerns, including providing only one way to report issues. She said she would also “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 if tenants aren’t able to receive maintenance requests because they do not wished to be recorded in their own home, to call CCLS at 800-675-8001.

For the full Fresno Bee investigation and stories that followed, read below:

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Cassandra is a housing and engagement reporter with Fresnoland.