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The Modesto Bee Jeff Jardine column
[April 04, 2013]

The Modesto Bee Jeff Jardine column

MODESTO, Apr 04, 2013 (The Modesto Bee - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Some of the residents at 1205 Rouse Ave. call their landlord a slumlord.

Among their litany of complaints: No heat, leaky fixtures, mold, a hole in a ceiling, raw sewage, dry rot, wet rot and every other type of rot known to mankind.

Property owner Steve Arakelian, on the other hand, claims he's the real victim here. That he's owed thousands of dollars in back rent. That he's been vilified by tenants who, in some cases, refuse to grant him access to their homes to make repairs. That one of the tenants he ultimately evicted stole power from a neighbor after she failed to pay her own electric bill. That their pets defiled the places, attracting cockroaches. That he's been more than understanding and tried to help them, only to get backstabbed in the process.

Indeed, the principals accuse each other of lying, distorting the facts and of being genuinely disingenuous.

It's come to this: In mid-March, Stanislaus County Judge Timothy Salter ordered the eviction of longtime resident Debbie Vogel from one of Arakelian's rental units even though in a previous hearing the judge had reduced her rent to $100 a month until Arakelian made repairs. But when she missed her most recent scheduled court date -- Vogel said she had to attend a relative's funeral and couldn't contact the court because her phone line had been cut -- Salter ruled in Arakelian's favor. She moved out later in the month.

Wednesday morning, while longtime Arakelian tenant Barbara Bradford appeared in Salter's court for an eviction hearing, about a dozen members of the Modesto Peace-Life Center and Occupy Merced protested outside of Superior Court's Civil Division at 10th and H streets in downtown Modesto.

They carried signs, one of which read "Slumlords: Bad 4 US, Good 4 Roaches." Other signs displayed photos taken inside the residences, along with a link to the video Modesto's John Lucas created to reveal the problems while residents vent on screen.

Salter ordered Bradford's hearing continued until next week, giving her new attorney -- Andrea DeTellis of California Rural Legal Assistance -- time to become familiar with the case.

Tenants on numerous occasions have summoned police, fire and county health officials to the small complex, just a few blocks from John Thurman Field and Modesto's Muni Golf Course.

A raw sewage spill in February brought out a county environmental resources inspector, who ordered cleanup. Arakelian complied. But when another septic issue arose, the residents called Burbank Fire Department Chief Mike Hillar, who requested another county inspection. Arakelian said he had the system rebuilt at a cost of more the $2,600, plus a $185 fine by the county.

A day after yet another inspection of the property, this one March 19, Arakelian received a letter from Environmental Health ordering a number of repairs in three separate units. They included replacing dry-rotted wood in the bathroom floor of one unit, bringing a gas water heater up to code in the second apartment and replacing a kitchen countertop in the third.

The residents interpret the orders to mean the units have been condemned. Not so, according to Jami Aggers, interim director of environmental resources.

"None of them are considered serious enough to be considered immediate health and safety risks," she said.

The inspector gave Arakelian until April 10 to complete repairs, but Bradford -- whose apartment has the bathroom problems -- refused to allow access.

Arakelian claims Bradford owes him $1,800 in unpaid rent and caused water issues that led to the dry rot. He said she allowed the tub to overflow by leaving it running while away, flooding the floor.

"I'm going to have to gut (the bathroom) and rebuild it," he said.

She argues that the leaking toilet -- not the tub -- caused the floor to rot. She also said Arakelian wanted to schedule repairs without giving her enough time to move her possessions, and that he should bear the cost of storing them safely while the work is under way.

Arakelian said she finally agreed to allow him to do the work beginning this weekend.

Meanwhile, Bradford claims she is facing eviction solely because she supported friend Vogel in her attempts to remain in her apartment.

"I don't hate this lady (Bradford)," Arakelian said. "I don't even dislike her. She's fighting for Debbie Vogel, who didn't keep up on her rent. I feel sorry for these people. I don't know where they're going to go. But they're not being fair with me. I did what I could to help them." They simply aren't feeling the love, though.

Vogel's been evicted. Bradford is in court, fighting to stay put. Protesters protest.

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.

A video about the conditions of the rentals on Rouse Avenue: Slum Apartment Complex 1205 Rouse Ave. in Modesto: January 2013 (edited version) from John Lucas on Vimeo.

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