News

Tenants sue East Palo Alto's biggest landlord

Lawsuit claims Equity Residential failed to correct dozens of problems

Two renters and a family member are suing Equity Residential for maintaining dangerous conditions that resulted in severe mental distress and assaults that caused injuries and forced them to vacate the property, according to a lawsuit filed in San Mateo County Superior Court on April 28.

Residents Ana Rubio and Leonardo and Gabriel Mendez sued landlord EQR-Woodland, commonly known as Equity Residential, and its aliases after the company allegedly failed to maintain the home they rent at its Woodland Park complex in a manner fit for human habitation, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit claims Equity Residential failed to correct dozens of problems since the residents moved there in 2007, including unsealed windows; a broken door frame; broken heater; exposed electrical wiring; loose plugs; rodent and cockroach infestations; rotten, moldy and buckling floorboards; an unsupported front porch structure; ceiling cracks and lead paint.

The plaintiffs made numerous requests for repairs and maintenance to EQR-Woodland Park and REDUS Woodland, LLC between December 2010 and July 2011. The City of East Palo Alto issued a notice of violation listing 29 corrective actions required by Aug. 29, 2012, but no repairs were made, according to the lawsuit.

The city's building services division red-tagged a room containing the hot water heater and a storage room behind the house that Equity allegedly had rented out as illegal units.

The company made some repairs in late 2012, but many other problems remained unfixed, despite repeated requests. On Sept. 19, 2013, the shower curtain rod broke from its attachment on the wall. Ana Rubio sprained her shoulder when she reached to prevent it from hitting her as it fell, the lawsuit claims.

Gabriel Mendez, who according to the lawsuit had complained to the landlord about the lack of adequate security many times, was assaulted and held at gunpoint by two unknown men in the home's driveway on July 29, 2012. The lawsuit said he specifically had complained about the front gate, which did not close securely due to a broken post and lack of latch, leaving it wide open. Less than one month later, Leonardo Mendez, who was visiting, was assaulted in the driveway. His injuries required overnight hospitalization and he has had ongoing health problems, including blindness in one eye, as a result of the assault, according to the court filing.

The property was also burglarized on Aug. 29, 2013. Rubio and Mendez's children were traumatized by the burglary and experienced bed wetting episodes and had difficulty sleeping, according to the lawsuit. Rubio was hospitalized on Sept. 28, 2013, after an extreme anxiety attack because of the incidents. The family was forced to vacate the property on Oct. 14, 2013, because of the ongoing problems, according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs are asking for $600,000 each for general and special damages, and more than $5.3 million for punitive and other damages and reimbursements.

Equity Residential owns 1,800 rental units in the Woodland Park complex, which is located on the west side of U.S. Highway 101 and south of University Avenue. Its holdings include apartments and single-family dwellings.

Equity Residential could not immediately be reached for comment.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Senior senior
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 30, 2014 at 10:34 am

Please publish the names of persons owning this landlord/company. That is one way to put a stop to this kind of stuff.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 30, 2014 at 10:49 am

His Name is Sam Zell @Senior Senior


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Lack of Educated People Leads to Abuse
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 30, 2014 at 11:10 am

@EPA: The email address you posted is incorrect format for an email address. Are there no spaces in between words or are there underscores? Are letters supposed to be capitalized or all lower case?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Raymond
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 30, 2014 at 11:18 am

I live @ Woodland Park Apts. I can testify to Equity's indifference. 2021 Euclid Ave. Apt D; 94303.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ha
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 30, 2014 at 11:27 am

@Lack: that wasn't an email address EPA was responding to "Senior senior."


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Huh?
a resident of another community
on Apr 30, 2014 at 11:32 am

Why would anyone stay in those conditions? Is rent really that cheap? How about Mountain View or Redwood City, San Jose, or the East Bay?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Not kidding around
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 30, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Contrary to popular beliefs, slum lords still prevail in Palo Alto, E. Palo Alto and most all the surrounding cities............AND they have the right to kick you out on a whim, leaving you to find new housing within a very short period of time if you don't like their tactics. They ignore you, lie to you and smile in your face. Being a renter in the Bay Area is difficult~I try to fix things myself if at all possible just to keep them at bay. And I am a 70 year old woman....


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 30, 2014 at 1:54 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Not Kidding Around - in E. Palo Alto, tenants can, and successfully do, fight landlords over many, many problems. Unfortunately, the surrounding cities still see tenants as less important than property owners, so they have fewer rights than we do in E. Palo Alto. We have a wonderful program that helps tenants, which is run by the city, as well as Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto, and the Stanford Law Clinic (I have have their updated name wrong).


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 30, 2014 at 1:54 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Not Kidding Around - in E. Palo Alto, tenants can, and successfully do, fight landlords over many, many problems. Unfortunately, the surrounding cities still see tenants as less important than property owners, so they have fewer rights than we do in E. Palo Alto. We have a wonderful program that helps tenants, which is run by the city, as well as Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto, and the Stanford Law Clinic (I have have their updated name wrong).


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Roger
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 1, 2014 at 9:34 am

I am sorry but having been an apartment manager I know that this isn't the whole story here, its too one sided. No question there are slum landlords, is this one, not from what I am reading.
What I see is a litigious legal firm getting involved and suing for a ridiculous sum of money from a deep pocket source.
Oh yeah sorry I forgot, this is America.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 1, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Roger - you're incorrect. The lead agency, Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto, is not money hungry at all. They're a nonprofit. They would only get this other firm involved if they felt that they had a solid case, as they're not big risk takers for the fun of it. Firms know how hard it is to take on a giant corporation with attorneys on retainer. If this suit is won, it's likely to be appealed, so it's hard to say how much money the firm would get.

I well recall that this house hasn't been kept up in years, from the scurrilous Page Mill Properties times, to the present. The gate in question is highly problematic - one can clearly see that it hasn't worked properly for ages. EQR/Woodland Park *are* slumlords in many cases, if they think that they can get away with it.

These tenants didn't have to be perfect to have a solid legal case. From what I know, this is what's happened with the property:

Page Mill Properties buys the place, does a bit of cosmetic work, rents it out. When these tenants moved in, there may or may not have been cosmetic work done, but the fixes in place were temporary, which wasn't obvious to the tenants. Then while living there they discover these other problems - which never get taken care of. The serious things ensue - the adults have all been injured.

The current EQR scheme is to rent to people with promises of what will be ready for move in, then those promises aren't kept. Pest problems aren't revealed, and many temporary measures are taken, only to have the problems return. As for the past scurrilous landlords, I've seen their cosmetic "improvements" literally fall apart within a year or two. I've been in the homes of enough EQR tenants to have seen this myself. I've also seen some of the crappy products EQR uses in its "upgrades" and some of it's laughable.

And as for it being one-sided, EQR didn't comment, so of course the plaintiffs side is what is available to the media. Regardless, it's very serious stuff. EQR just lost in court recently in SJ, too.

As you know, a plaintiff doesn't have to be a saint to prevail in court. This isn't a bid to sainthood, it's a legal action not lightly taken by a nonprofit because what's happened to the plaintiffs is so bad, legal remedies are necessary.

Also, the SJ Mercury News wrote an article as well, which has additional info to this article. Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Roger
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 1, 2014 at 1:23 pm

Page Mill properties may well have sucked, but for me when you sue for millions its just nonsense, and you know that too.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Neighbors Helping Neighbors
a resident of Midtown
on May 1, 2014 at 1:52 pm

Dear Friends & Neighbors,
There are resources for our Palo Alto "neighbors in need" (middle to low income)who are renters. If you are a renter in Palo Alto and Mountain View and need guidance and help to navigate services, please contact us...

Or if you are currently a home-owner or renter living in a dwelling and can no longer pay for your basic needs (food, housing & transportation), please call or email us...

NeighborsHelpingNeighbors2013@gmail.com
Phone: 650-283-0270
P.O. BOX 113
Palo Alto, CA 94302
FACEBOOK: Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Aquamarine
a resident of Stanford
on May 1, 2014 at 2:45 pm

Suing for millions makes sense, given the injuries sustained, the resulting permanent injury(ies)/trauma, the amount of time they endured the conditions and how long the landlord was negligent. The amount they're asking may not be granted.

CLSEPA has some excellent attorneys and Stanford should be proud of its affiliation.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Retired Staffer
a resident of another community
on May 1, 2014 at 9:25 pm

This is Sam Zell's mobile home REIT.
Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 6, 2014 at 11:58 am

Hmmm is a registered user.

Zell is a monied thug. The lawsuits against him tell that story. The untold story is about those too scared to take legal action.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jun 5, 2014 at 12:10 am

Hmmm is a registered user.

Sue Dremman - I hope that you can keep us all updated on what happens with this lawsuit.

For further reference, someone recently sent me this articles:
Web Link


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