$285,000 face-lift almost complete for Tioga Apartments in Merced

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comDecember 23, 2013 

— The historic Tioga Apartments building is on pace this month to see the completion of most of its planned upgrades, a face-lift of about $285,000, according to one of the owners.

Neil Goodhue, who co-owns the building with four others, said he expects the building’s interior spaces to have new carpet and paint by the end of the year. The lobby has already received its polish, and the hallways are next.

“It’s a big building in the city and we want it to be a credit in the city,” Goodhue said, adding $285,000 is a significant investment. “We’re going beyond the call of duty.”

The six-floor building’s elevator, which is unreliable, will get all new machinery, Goodhue said. Many of the parts have to be specially made and the project needs plans, he said, so it will take some time to complete.

Other upgrades include electrical and plumbing systems, he said. To mark the improvements to the roughly 85-year-old building the owners hung a sign above the entryway that reads “Tioga 2.0.”

Problems with the condition of the building came into the public eye in May when some tenants brought a petition before the Merced City Council. The complaints included a cockroach infestation, overflowing garbage rooms, foul odors and problems with the elevator.

After an extensive inspection from a third-party consultant in July, the owners handed management duties to Stockton-based BLR Commercial Real Estate. The company officially took over Sept. 7.

New on-site manager Rose Montez said 30 apartments in the 89-apartment building will be overhauled and remain unoccupied until they are complete. The building offers studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments that rent from $425 to $630 per month.

Montez said the owners tried to catch up on the maintenance of appliances, work that was left incomplete by the previous building manager. They’ve hired two more employees for maintenance purposes.

Management will pay for disabled tenants’ hotel stays during the six weeks it takes to upgrade the elevator, Montez said.

To eradicate the cockroaches management hired a new pest control company, she said, and ceased use of the trash rooms. Each floor had two rooms where tenants would throw their trash that were cleared periodically by maintenance staff, a holdover from the building’s past.

“It’s helped with the roaches tremendously,” Montez said, adding that pest control needs to do more work to further improve conditions.

It took crews about three weeks to clear the trash that had built up in the basement and on the roof, as well as about 50 mattresses stored in another room, she said.

Tenants will be expected to help keep the building clean, Montez said, because poor housekeeping incurs a pest problem.

Susan Bouscaren, committee member of Tenants Together, a statewide tenants rights organization, said the relationship between management and tenants has started off on the right foot.

“We’re seeing a definite improvement in the relationship with the tenants, and we’re starting to see some of the work finally being completed,” Bouscaren said, adding there is more work to be done.

Disabled tenants, she said, would like management to install an outdoor trash chute, because the trip downstairs can be difficult.

For the most part, Bouscaren said, she is happy with the BLR team. A group of tenants and the management meet monthly to discuss issues.

Bouscaren contends that many of the building’s problems could have been avoided if Merced code enforcement had cited what she saw as health issues that built up under the previous management.

David Gonzalves, director of development services for the city, told the Sun-Star in July that the city cites only “issues that have a major life-safety threat or landlords that are not being responsive.” He did not return calls for comment Monday.

Jessica Santos, one of the tenants who meets regularly with the management, said the upgrades can’t come fast enough. She said she’s considering moving out. She noted some change in the pest problems, but wouldn’t call it an improvement.

“Before, when you’d walk out down the hallway or in the stairwell, you’d see them everywhere,” the 31-year-old said, adding she still sees bugs on the ceiling and in cabinets. “(Management) has a very long way to go.”

Rudy Salcido, 41, who has lived in the building for 10 years, said he heard complaints about management from other tenants but never had any himself. “It’s always been pretty fair to me,” he said, adding he’s always liked the building.

He said walking the trash out of the building is a good idea.

“They’re doing the best they can to try to keep the pests controlled.“

Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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