Lawsuit filed by residents of Cloverdale Apartments claims they suffered black mold, roof leaks, and cockroaches
Aldys, who doesn’t speak English, smiles sweetly as she welcomes strangers into her home.
She and her husband Gerardo, a grape picker, live in their two-bedroom apartment on McCray Road, which is part of a converted motel, with their two children, ages 6 and 7. For fear of retaliation, they did not want their last names to be used.
They do their best for their children. You have decided to put bunk beds in one bedroom (the lower one is a double bed) so the kids can have a playroom in the other bedroom. There is a small kitchen with a table for the children to do their schoolwork and the family to have their daily meals and a living room.
Aldys, who works part-time at a nearby restaurant, said the family had lived there for four years and struggled with the moisture that makes the walls sweat and the black mold that forms when it rains. It was more difficult at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the children were not going to school, she said.
You are one of seven families who are part of a lawsuit filed in April against owners Joy Kane and Charles Traboulsi, who bought the buildings in 2013 and owns dozens of other rental properties in Sonoma County. The suit is still in the discovery phase.
After Santa Rosa’s attorneys Edie Sussman and frequent collaborator Joshua Katz took the case in November 2020, mailed the owners a letter and worked with them for several months, and “got nowhere”, they filed a lawsuit. They suggested to their clients that they withhold rent until “a terrible lack of working heating, mold just everywhere, and raw sewage getting into people’s tubs, showers and sinks,” Sussman said.
“It was terrifying what happened there,” she says. “But we’re not only suing for damages, but for repairs to the whole place.”
It is not easy to get residents to join the lawsuit or withhold their rent, Sussman said. They all feared eviction. Tenant Susana Alfaro spoke to the families and convinced them that the lawyers would protect them, Sussman said.
On October 15, she and Katz, who also practices in Santa Rosa, sent a letter to the county. They cited long lists of violations, including lack of weatherproofing, rodent and cockroach infestations, multiple entry points for rodents, mold and increased moisture in bedroom and bathroom walls and baseboards, dry rot and bedroom sockets that “show open floors” and request an inspection .
As a result, a district inspector visited the property on October 27th and toured three units with Katz. They were cited in a unit for two leaky windows, noting “Roof top weather,” suggesting the renter needed to block leaks, holes in a wall that led to rodent infestation, and soft floor near a bathtub, including flaking and peeling paint. Similar violations were reported in two other apartments.
A notification was sent to owners that day to fix the violations, said Bradley Dunn, policy manager at Permit Sonoma.
The owner had to remove all existing windows in two buildings and replace them with new double-glazed insulating glass and vinyl sliding windows. The county also asked them to remove and replace parts of the roofs in two different buildings and install a new extractor hood, electric wall heater and ceiling fan in another.
“These are clearly minor violations and we spoke to the manager and found that these residents had not paid rent for up to a year,” said Harrison, county code enforcement manager. “And there was some credible information that these tenants might not have done repairs, but we don’t care,” she said. The law requires repairs to be done regardless of these things, she said.
Harrison said the owner has given building permits to remove and replace all windows, remove and replace the roof, and replace all ceiling fans and lighting. The inspector said they were told that sometimes there were problems accessing the units to make repairs.
Sussman said it was “absolutely not true” that residents who are her customers had not made their units accessible. She pointed out that the permits were issued in February and August and that nothing had been done.
On Friday, apartment co-owner Charles Traboulsi sent a letter through his San Francisco attorney, Robert Farrell, in response to tenants’ allegations and items cited by the district.
In the letter, Traboulsi said that a leak in the roof of a unit was fixed within 48 hours, which in his opinion was considered “the most important element”. Other repairs were made as needed, he said, including “replacing siding, weather protection on doors, holes in drywall, electrical outlets, small water leaks, eaves, window locks, etc.”