Tenants fed up with mold Hayward lawsuit against landlord

Jason B. Johnson, Chronicle Staff Writer Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Every night between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m., Joseph Mayer, 15, is awakened by the tightness in his chest. Coughing and shaking, he must suck on a plastic tube connected to a breathing device to calm his asthma attacks.

Joseph's parents believe their son's condition was caused by black mold growing throughout their two-bedroom northeast Hayward apartment, which has a thick musty smell.

"I'd like to get enough money to move out of here," said Joseph's mother, Luisa Mayer.

Tenants living in what they claim are deplorable conditions at the Park Hill Apartments say they will file a $5 million lawsuit against its owner today. Housing advocates say it's a prime example of the Catch-22 situation facing poor and working-class families throughout the Bay Area. They live in substandard housing, and they can't afford to move.

Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo and Marin counties had an estimated 62,000 households living in substandard housing conditions, according to a 1998 study by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Housing advocates believe those numbers have increased due to a combination of weak code-enforcement laws and the high cost of housing for low- and moderate-income families.

"San Francisco is less of a problem because we have more aggressive code enforcement," said Randy Shaw, director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which runs six residential hotels funded by the city.

"But it's a problem all over the state," said Shaw. "Moving isn't an option when you have no place to move to."

Shaw said his group plans to have legislation strengthening code enforcement statewide introduced in the upcoming state legislative session later this month.

At Park Hill, a collection of 109 units spread out over nine buildings, residents pay rents ranging from $900 to $1,495 per month, apartment officials said.

Tenant advocates say the flat roofs of the two- and three-floor buildings have leaks, and poor drainage systems allow water to seep into ground floor units.

Alameda County building inspectors say they have no record of any recent complaints being filed against the property.

Neither Park Hill's owner, Rodney Busk, nor his attorney would return several calls seeking comment on the pending lawsuit, but manager Mike Miller said he was aware of the case. Miller said he's not sure how many units have mold and other problems.

"Yes, we are aware of those issues," said Miller. "Mr. Busk would answer that, when (repairs to those units) will be taken care of."

The pending lawsuit represents more than 100 Park Hill tenants. It claims the buildings were poorly designed and suffer from leaks, chipped paint, cracked walls and mold growing rampantly in several units.

The mold is making tenants sick, with sample tests confirming that the mold is toxic, said San Francisco-based attorney Kenneth Greenstein, who is representing the tenants.

The Mayers, who pay $1,200 a month in rent, have lived in the complex five years.

Joseph's father, Steve Mayer, who works as an auto mechanic, said apartment managers have repeatedly failed to fix the problems in the family's apartment.

"The smell got so bad in his bedroom that now he sleeps on the couch in the living room," Steve Mayer said. "I hate that room."

Pam Walsh has black mold growing along the bottom of the walls in her apartment, which she's rented the past five years.

"It doesn't matter how often I clean it off, it comes right back," said Walsh. "I've had curtains up and I've had to throw them away because they get mildewy. I don't even bother putting curtains up anymore."


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