I Could Hear The Gritos


root - Posted on 08 April 2002

PNN staff writer attends a protest for five Latino families facing housing discrimination in the Mission.

by Aldo Arturo Della Maggiora


I could hear the gritos, (screams)….

vecinos unidos; jamas sera’n vencidos.

Aqui estamos y no nos vamos!

?Que Queremos?

!Viviendas Dignas!

Cuando?.

Ahora!….

Hard sidewalks, leafs blowing cold, old cars parked in the Mission neighborhood. As I walked towards the building where five Latino families were being discriminated against, I reminisced on the time when my landlord violated my rights. He entered my unit while I was housing a friend who had been a victim of eviction for unjust rental policies. My request for maintenance put my tenancy in jeopardy. I ended up having to move out and live in different homes until I could "reestablish" my housing situation. What hit me the hardest during my experience was that I did not have a voice. The power of voice is a privilege, and the access to media to voice issues is necessary in the 21 century!

On Tuesday, January 15, 2002 .,I attended a rally and press conference ,sponsored by five primarily mono-lingual Latino families who were tenants of 2389 Folsom Street and their advocates, St. Peter’s Housing Committee who were protesting the conditions of their building and the mistreatment by their landlord .

Most of the tenants were present, many people walking by stayed to support the protest, and cars honked in support. The cold air hit my face, I began my interview in my second language, Spanish. " Hola me llamo Aldo Arturo y trabajo para la revista de los Pobres ayudando gente de todas las comunidades . ¿Puedes explicar que esta pasando aqui?" "Tenemos muchos problemas en el apartamento, de que el dueno , siempre que lo queremos hablar nunca nos escucha. El Sabado vino muy aggressivo, boracho y golpeando todas las purtas, y no sabiamos por que el motivio que vino asi aggressivo. Y queremos que nos escuche," said Francisca Sanchez.

Tenants made several complaints to the landlords, Maurine and John O’Neill. They sent a letter complaining about the new rental agreement that jeopardized the tenants’ occupancy, putting them at risk of eviction and misleading the tenants into believing that they only had one day to sign the new agreement in case of a "fire". The letter protests the signing of the new rental agreements. This letter also opposed the landlords eliminating the five-day grace period, insisting that the tenants pay their rent on the first of each month before 4:00 p.m. Eleven tenants signed this letter.

What happens to the tenants who have to pay the rent on the fifth of the month due to getting their salary late? According to the new landlords policy, a $50.00 late fee is charged for late rent.

Maintenance and repair concerns continue to be a problem. All units at 2389 Folsom St. lack repairs from sink leaks, bathroom leaks, humidity, poor ventilation, worn down carpets, linoleum, broken fire alarms, etc.

According to the California Civil Code Section 1941.1 (Warranty of Habitability) and the San Francisco Municipal Code, the O’Neill’s are responsible for taking care of the damages in the units at 2389 Folsom St. If the tenants’ claims are not met after thirty days, the tenants could call the Code Enforcement Outreach Program. In addition to this, California Civil Code Section 1942.5 prohibits the landlords from striking back against the tenants for exercising their legal right to request repairs.

On November 27, 2001 the O’Neill’s received a notice of violation from the Department of Building Inspection Housing Inspection Services (City and County of San Francisco complaint # 200122994). In the notice the O’Neill’s were ordered to abide with the request of the tenants and asked to call Andrew Kares, Housing Inspector, at 415 558-6465 to inspect the apartment complex.

"What are some of the issues that are going to be addressed today?" I asked. Lauren Porter, of the St. Peter’s Housing Committee, replied, "The landlords’ blatant disrespect for the rights of the tenants. We just want the tenants to have opportunity to be heard on these issues and to get some response because they have been working since last August to try and get these repairs taken care of, and up until now nothing has been done."

The rally began and several tenants voiced experiences they have faced. I approached a young man named David, "What is your point of view on what has happened here?" David said that his friend, Hector, has resided at 2389 Folsom St. his whole life. They complained to the landlord about the conditions of the apartment, but no action had been taken to maintain safe, livable conditions in the apartment. I asked a tenant, Juvenal Alcantar, what the problem was with his apartment. "Los problemas con el apartamento es que no quire arreglarlos . ¿Y con tu apartmento? Pues el plomeria."

Another person spoke loudly into the megaphone. "The bathrooms have leaks and the landlords has ignored our request for maintenance. This is why we have united and nobody will be alone, everyone will unite, so that we can triumph." Many residents have taken a day off from work and school to attend this public meeting. One tenant, Juan Garcia, complained that the landlord did not want to hear their complaints and wanted to charge the tenants $50.00 for not paying rent on the first of the month.

I approached Lupe Arreola from St.Peter’s Housing Committee and asked her who could be contacted to deal with the lead poisoning and asthma which pose serious health issues for the tenants. She told me that the Department of Health and Building Inspections would deal with the health issues.

Another issue that was important to me was the discrimination the tenants might face because the O’Neill’s refused to meet with the tenants because they could not speak English. I tracked this issue by talking to Lupe. She pointed out that this issue could be pursued by contacting those from the Human Rights Advocate.

As a POOR Magazine advocate (we don’t just "report – we support), I called and left a message for Housing Inspector Andrew Kares to see if the O’Neill’s had addressed the concerns of the tenants. Although I have not yet received a response from Andrew Kares, Clarie Flahive, a counselor and organizer for St. Peter’s Housing Committee, revealed to me that since the press conference the O’Neill’s have begun some of the repairs at 2389 Folsom St. As I mentioned before, I wish I had knowledge of a support group that could inform me about my rights, such as the Civil and Municipal Codes that protect tenants from landlords that harass and discriminate against them.

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