Tenants living in a condemned downtown Modesto apartment building plagued by rotting floors, mold, rats and cockroaches, faulty plumbing, as well as a host of other problems are suing the building’s owners.
California Rural Legal Assistance filed the lawsuit Friday in Stanislaus Superior Court on behalf of seven of the tenants. The lawsuit names Turlock husband and wife Steve and Noma Arakelian as defendants. The lawsuit’s claims include negligence, breach of contract, and unlawful business practices. It seeks financial damages for the tenants and attorneys fees for CRLA.
CRLA expects the Arakelians will be served with the lawsuit this week.
The lawsuit states the seven tenants paid their rent and honored the terms of their leases while the Arakelians failed to provide them with safe, sanitary and habitable living conditions.
The Arakelians own the two-story building of 27 studio apartments at 624 Ninth St. The on-site manager said last month that about 80 poor people lived in the building. Tenants have said about a dozen children have lived there. Rent is $575 or $585 a month. Modesto has condemned the building.
Steve Arakelian did not return a phone call seeking comment Monday afternoon. He has blamed some tenants for damaging and vandalizing the building, though several tenants have said Arakelian does not make repairs or makes inadequate repairs, such as giving tenants small amounts of rat poison rather than hiring an exterminator for the entire building.
Aurora Thome — an attorney with CRLA’s Modesto office — said the problems started from the time the tenants represented by the CRLA moved in. She said one tenant caught about a dozen mice in the first week of living in the building.
Arakelian has said he does not have the money to repair the building and has put it up for sale. He had notices issued to tenants last month, saying he was terminating their leases and they had 30 or 60 days to leave. Tenants who had lived in the building less than a year were given 30 days, those who had lived there longer were given 60 days.
The notices said if the tenants were not out within 30 or 60 days, Arakelian could take them to court to evict them. Thome said some tenants recently received eviction paperwork. She said CRLA is working with the tenants in the lawsuit who received eviction paperwork but said other tenants who received the paperwork are welcome to contact CRLA to see if it can help them.
Modesto, Stanislaus County and social service providers are working with tenants to find them housing. Some tenants have found homes, while others have been placed temporarily in motels and respite housing. Others still live in the building, including the seven suing the Arakelians.
Modesto is providing tenants who get new housing with relocation benefits, which it expects to be about $1,200 per apartment. The city has provided tenants with the forms to apply for the benefits. The Arakelians are required to provide relocation benefits but failed to do so. The city will seek reimbursement from them for what it pays out.
Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316