Fresno apartment complex residents face another night in the cold

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Nearly 2,000 residents of a southeast Fresno apartment complex face another night without heat, hot water or the ability to cook. Leaks forced the shut off their gas supply. The burden of caring for them appears to be falling on the city of Fresno.

It's dark and quickly getting chilly for the residents of a run-down housing complex. There are 30 buildings here, 250 units, about 1,800, mostly southeast Asian refugees. The city and a nearby charity are helping, but it's a huge job. According to Fresno mayor Ashley Swearengin, they will be keeping the people in place but the repairs could take about three weeks.

Ask the residents here what its like to be without gas, and they'll tell you, "We need hot water, difficult, yes," said Kevin Tran, resident.

Residents have struggled to get by, with a lot of temporary help from FIRM, the Fresno Interdenominational Refugee Ministries across the street. Eleven-year-old Amy Senghchang is grateful, "They offered us blankets, socks, and heater and so we are a little bit more warmer."

The city of Fresno has stepped in since the owner of the complex can't be found. The immediate problem is fixing the gas lines, but it could be a huge problem. "As we start testing the system in its entirety we may find problems in other parts of the complex, and that's our concern," said Bruce Rudd, Fresno City Manager.

Bad gas lines aren't the only problems the city's code inspectors are likely to find.
Zack Darrah, FIRM's executive director, said there have been problems at this complex for a long time. "We've actually been working with issues with this complex for a number of years. Residents complaining about this and that, and we have not had very good cooperation from the management or the ownership group."

Central California Legal Services has also been aware of problems with housing and attorney Christina Skaff Hathaway said the city could take the property. "Basically when the owner fails to respond, the city does have the power under its code enforcement to come in and inspect the units, and, either, condemn him, in which case relocation fees would have to be paid to all of the tenants, or they could make a report and make demands upon the owner to fix the place and make it habitable to live in."

Rudd said he doesn't expect to condemn the property, but could seize it if the owner does not pay for repairs and other costs. "We will try to recover it and if that means putting this complex into receivership, that is certainly one of the options we are going to pursue and probably pursue aggressively."

The city of Fresno has a plan to bring in portable showers and cooking equipment for the residents. For safety they have installed smoke detectors and making other preparations to keep the residents safe.
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