'Squalid Firetrap Underscores Habitability Issues' Affecting Landlords

By DANIEL BORNSTEIN, ESQ.

In one of the most egregious and heart-wrenching instances of landlords providing squalid and hazardous conditions, the building at 4680-4690 Mission Street and its owners are fittingly the subject of court action. City Attorney Dennis Herrera has filed suit against Melissa Mendoza of Hillsborough, owner of the three-story unit in the Outer Mission, and the building’s master tenant, Ernesto Paredes of Daly City.
“The building was a firetrap”, City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement in describing the substandard conditions tenants had to endure. “The living conditions were not only appalling and illegal, they were extremely dangerous. The people were basically stuck in a dungeon”, his choice of words in referencing a windowless, rat infested basement rife with leaky pipes, exposed wiring and other horrors for the 20 residents – among them, a 12-year old girl.
The suit is leveling myriad code violations against the duo in operating a public-nuisance building unsuitable for humans. Get more details of the story and the conditions of the dank living quarters in this SF Gate Article.
However deplorable the living conditions were in this cesspool, if there is any good news (we’re not sure there is), we can report that there was no loss of life in the trifling housing arrangements, unlike Oakland’s deadly fire on December 2, 2016. Like everyone else, we were deeply saddened by this tragedy and it was a topic we took on in this blog post.

 

 

In that venue, we noted that while the law is clear that a rental property need not be a palace, it must be safe, sanitary and secure. Apparently, Ms. Mendoza and Mr. Paredes were not kept in the loop or did not heed our strong advice.
Sometimes, there is a blur between what is legal and what is right, but there is no quandary here. Both the ethical and legal breaches in the case at hand are atrocious. Although this story represents an extreme case of depravity, it should put rental property owners on notice that they have an obligation to provide livable quarters for their tenants. Failure to do so is both immoral and illegal.
Although the housing conditions on Mission Street, like that of the Oakland fire, are clearly avoidable and shocking to the conscious of anyone, our hard-won experience at Bornstein Law has shown that most habitability issues arise out of less-known, overlooked violations such as an exposed outlet where children are playing or other mundane violations not so clear cut. Whether your rental unit passes all of the habitability checks is a subject best reviewed with competent real estate lawyers.
With proper counsel, habitability issues can be avoided and resolved, rectified and liabilities reduced. 

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As the founding attorney of Bornstein Law, Broker of Record for Bay Property Group and expert witness, Daniel Bornstein is a foremost and well-respected expert in landlord-tenant disputes and other property management issues with over 23 years of experience in handling real estate and civil litigation related disputes in and throughout the Bay Area. More than a litigator, Daniel manages rental properties, assists in completing real estate transactions and is well known for his educational seminars. He is always eager to answer questions and engage with Bay Area landlords, property owners and real estate professionals. Email him today.