This week we're continuing our exploration of the ways in which renter's are being disenfranchised and exploited by landlords in the Sacramento area through a conversation with SJPC's Program Manager, Andi Bianchi, and his partner Dylan Hoy-Bianchi. Andi & Dylan answered some questions for us regarding their housing journey in Sacramento.
Can you describe your current living situation?
We live in a small two bedroom apartment in unincorporated Sacramento County (Arden-Arcade area). The complex we live in is managed by a company that owns several properties in the Sacramento area, they purchased this complex from another management company towards the end of 2021. We moved into the complex in August of 2021 when it was run by the previous company; at that time all of the balconies had been condemned because the wood was rotting and they were unsafe to walk on. It’s possible there were other code violations at that time that we were unaware of. It took over a year for our balcony to be repaired and replaced, but there were others that weren’t fixed until even later. That’s all to say that this new property management company taking over hasn’t improved the quality of life here.
How did you end up in this situation?
Near the beginning of 2020 we both lost our jobs, and because it took so long for our unemployment (Dylan) and disability (Andi) to kick in, we lost the apartment we had in LA. We left the majority of our things in a storage unit there and packed everything we could in our two cars, bringing our dog and cat along with us. After spending a few weeks in LA, crashing in a few different places, we came up to Sacramento to stay with a family friend. We got here in March, about a week before lockdown. Initially we were living in a camper in the family friend’s backyard, and eventually moved to a room at the top of the house with three walls of windows and no AC. It was a very difficult summer.
Towards the beginning of fall we were told to leave that house because we tested positive for Covid, so we went to stay with Dylan’s parents in Reno. Andi found a job in Sacramento around the beginning of 2021, and so we spent several months with Andi bouncing back and forth between Reno, staying with friends in Sacramento, and temporarily renting rooms in Sac. Dylan lived with his parents during that stretch of time.
In March of 2021 we finally have the opportunity to live together in Sacramento again. We had struggled to find a place to live with our two animals and low credit scores, not to mention the fact that we didn’t make much money. We eventually found a room for rent in a house on Dreher St., and moved in, having been told the landlord (who lived there with his girlfriend) was moving out and leaving the house to us and one other roommate. They didn’t move out, and they charged us $1,000/month to live in a space smaller than a studio apartment.
The pair of them got into very loud screaming matches almost every night, and left the house disgusting and covered in their stuff so we could really only exist in the small room we stayed in with our dog and cat. It turned out that they were also renting to around 7 other tenants (there was a small second building in the backyard), which was far more than that property could fit. The person who told us he was the “landlord” was actually supposed to be “managing” the house on behalf of his friend, who owned the house. This “landlord” was supposed to be using the money from the rent he was collecting to fix up the house. Instead he was pocketing it. We realized quickly that this was not a safe place to live, but it took a long time for us to find somewhere to move, given the credit and income issues.
Then, in August of 2021, we finally found an apartment of our own again.
What are some ways in which your current housing is unsafe?
Below, dryers that remained nonfunctional
months after the fire
There have been 3 fires at our complex in the time that we’ve been here; they happened in the following places:
The laundry facility attached to our building
There was an electrical fire in one of the dryers, both of the two laundry facilities on the property were shut down after that. They remained shut down for 5 months
We (apartment resides collectively) were not offered a discount on rent, or vouchers for going to outside facilities to do laundry
At present, there are still several dryers that don’t function properly
Fun note - the laundry facility attached to our building didn’t have overhead lighting for over a year
The most recent fire took place inside someone’s unit
It was several weeks before the burnt furniture and other objects leftover from the fire were cleared from outside the window that had been broken during the process of putting the fire out
Another ground floor apartment towards the back of the complex caught fire over a year ago and hasn’t yet been fully repaired. There are still people living in the unit above it
Image 1 is of the fire in our complex a couple of months ago, image 2 is weeks later when they finally cleared the debris out from under the window
Earlier this year we noticed that we hadn’t received any mail for about two weeks, so we went to the leasing office and asked about it. The leasing office staff person told us “several tenants have asked about that, you should go talk to the post office”
So, we went to the post office, and they told us that the mailboxes at our complex had been tampered with, and therefore they weren’t delivering mail there
At no point did we receive notice from property management that the mail boxes had been tampered with or that mail wasn’t being delivered, and they did not let us know when mail delivery resumed
In the summer/fall of 2022 there was an outbreak of bed bugs in the complex, we were charged $850 to treat our apartment for them
Additionally, in the summer of 2022, there was a massive mosquito infestation in the complex because property management had left the pool stagnant and uncleaned
Exposed moldy insulation on outside of buildings
Mold problem in our bathroom
We’ve had a mold problem in our bathroom for almost a year, it’s not visible but you can smell it
We tried for months and months to get property management to deal with it. They rarely responded to maintenance requests (often marking outstanding requests as "complete" when no one had come to our apartment), and even when they did respond it always ended with some kind of follow-up being needed & the whole process would start all over again
The last thing they did was have an “expert” come & test the air in the bathroom for mold; we were told that we’re not allowed to see the report, and were also told they would respond to the report findings. That never happened
We stopped pushing for this to be resolved out of fear of retaliation
Now we have an air filter in the bathroom, borrowed from a friend, but the smell still makes Andi nauseous so he uses a nose plug in the bathroom to avoid most of it
It is difficult for Andi to shower without feeling sick
To the left are the results of our at-home kit to test for airborne mold spores; the "expert" who came to test the air told us that these kits aren't accurate, but after he had completed his testing, we were not permitted to see the results report.
Leasing office staff
To say that staff the leasing office are unresponsive to tenants’ needs would be an understatement
We have personally witnessed staff be dismissive of, and act aggressively towards, tenants that don’t speak English as their first language. This is incredibly upsetting, especially when you consider that many families in this complex don't speak English as their first language
Office staff have repetitively ignored our concerns and requests for assistance with maintenance issues. They often say the only thing they can do is send someone an email, very put upon, their hands are tied (as they have said to us)
Communications from leasing office
Tenants at this complex get messages from the leasing office for two reasons:
If someone is parked in the wrong spot & they are being told that they’ll be towed if they don’t move
One message about them hiring “security” for the complex in the evenings
We have never gotten a message about: fires, mailbox tampering (as previously mentioned), code violations (i.e. balconies), trash pickup delays, and any number of safety issues we’ve talked about in this write-up
What factors have impacted your ability to find safer housing?
We’re somewhat stuck again. We haven’t been able to move because we don’t have enough savings to afford moving costs & a deposit. Years ago when we were still going to school at UCI, we spent a few months needing to buy groceries using credit cards. We were never able to pay them off, and in combination with a couple other debt issues related to survival needs, we have pretty low credit scores. It’s difficult to find an apartment complex that will approve folks with bad credit. In our experience, this seems to be about as good as it gets.
What would help you navigate this situation in a safe way?
Essentially we just need to move. We found this complex from a list provided by SSHH (a resource that no longer exists) which wasn't perfect, but was at least something. At the very least, it provided a list of complexes that would work with folks with low credit scores. To our knowledge nothing like that exists now. If there were, or had been, programs to help support and protect renters from landlords and property management companies like this, it would have been very helpful. What we really need is a housing navigator who could help us find safe housing and work with our credit scores.
As it stands, we are scared of pushing more for health & maintenance issues because we cannot risk losing our housing again. Property management companies like this shouldn’t exist in the first place, and in our current situation I can’t see a solution in continuing to try to work with them. They don’t care if we leave or not, they probably want us to leave so they can raise the rent, so what incentive is there for them to treat the tenants better? There will always be demand for cheap(er) housing, so it won’t affect them. But it does affect us. Who’s going to champion that for us though? Or for all the families here? For the people who don’t speak English as their first language, or
who have jobs out in the community during business hours? No one is looking out for us, or for the people here. So a system that actually did care and provide support is the system that is needed.
If you're interested in supporting Andi & Dylan in their struggle to move into safe housing, you can support by donating through venmo @Andi-Bianchi
We at SJPC know that so many people in the Sacramento area are facing similar or WORSE housing conditions, and we want to work together towards building safety and power in our community. If you have a story, resource, suggestion, or anything else you may want to bring this conversation, we welcome you. We want to hear from