Residents of Countryside Apartments in Ramona are beginning to raise red flags in connection with what they say are health and safety concerns at their 14th Street complexes, while management says they are following standard procedures and accommodating COVID-19 guidelines.
After not getting satisfactory responses from the property’s district manager and the management company’s vice president, Countryside Apartments resident Fernando Medina said he is ready to elevate their issues to San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan.
Medina, a tenant of one of two Countryside Apartments located at 612 and 620 14th St. for four years, said his issues with the complex’s property maintenance peaked with the advance of COVID-19.
Of primary concern is the welfare of his 2-year-old daughter, Geneva, who is autistic and has immune deficiency. Partly because her body doesn’t produce sufficient antibodies, Medina said Geneva is extremely susceptible to respiratory diseases and has suffered four back-to-back pneumonia cases.
“If someone walked into a room with pneumonia or any respiratory infection, for you or I it would take 90 minutes of exposure to get infected,” said Medina. “For my daughter it would take 10 minutes of exposure.”
Medina said the last time she had pneumonia in February he rushed her to the hospital, but along the way, Geneva was sick to her stomach, passed out and was slumped over in her car seat. Medina was able to pull over near Ramona Fire Station 82 at Dye Road and state Route 67.
“I told the 911 dispatcher that I’m near a fire station, then I could hear over their loudspeaker they had a call for a non-responsive baby,” he said. “The firefighters ran out, grabbed her from my arms and assessed her vitals. I didn’t think she was going to make it.”
Once at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego, Medina said Geneva experienced difficulty breathing and COVID-19-like symptoms and was connected to a ventilator for more than a week before recovering.
Back at home in the affordable housing residence, Medina said he has since seen the property maintenance workers not wearing masks and neglecting to wear gloves, even as they pick up trash. The apartment management staff have also been posting notices on his door, even though he’s asked to receive the notices by email or postal service mail. Medina said he is concerned about touching the documents when the coronavirus can linger on surfaces
“They’re not willing to help me protect my children,” said Medina, who has three other daughters, Galilea, 1; Sydney, 8: and Vienna, 10.
In response to inquiries, Countryside District Manager Gloria Rodriguez said staff are taking multiple precautions to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Among safety measures is closing the apartment office to the public and tenants, with communications diverted to emails, telephone calls, use of a dropbox and scheduling appointments between tenants and staff as necessary.
When repairs are needed, Rodriguez said work orders are temporarily limited to emergencies. Tenants are asked to walk out of their unit while workers take precautions to wear gloves and masks to address the repairs for protection of the employees and the tenants.
Rodriguez said the laundry room is also sanitized several times throughout each day and only one or two people can use the facility at a time. She said the laundry room is closed at 3 p.m. so crews can conduct a more thorough, deep sanitation from 3 to 5 p.m.
The policy for masks is for staff to wear face coverings when interacting with the tenants, but they are not required when working outside if no people are in the area. Rodriguez said if tenants come toward the worker, then they are asked to step back until the workers can cover their faces with a mask.
Rodriguez said management posts notices on a clip on the outside of each unit’s door to keep them informed of COVID-19-related policies and resources. She said the notices address such things as COVID-19 frequently asked questions and responses, and phone numbers and website addresses they can access to get more information.
“We’re doing the best we can for our tenants and working with them through this difficult time,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said management can send information by email if the tenants request it, but the general policy is to post notices on the door and send by first-class mail.
Countryside resident Lorena Santillan, a tenant of the complex for 14 years, said she didn’t have issues with the management staff until early 2019. Since then, Santillan said she was twice given a 60-day notice to move out. Santillan said one maintenance worker went into her apartment to fix the lights in the kitchen and that worker wasn’t wearing a mask at the time, and twice she said she has seen maintenance crew without masks in the laundry room.
Other concerns she listed included having a staff member open her mailbox to put in letters without stamps, not restricting access to the complex’s playground, and manager conflicts.
Santillan said she is joining forces with Medina to set up a Ramona Renters Association with the hope it would allow them to take more legal action as a group.
“I’ve never been in this type of situation and I don’t know how it works, I just want to do this the right way,” Santillan said.
Santillan also expressed dismay over her car being towed at a cost of $300. Santillan said she parked in a space of a former tenant who had given her permission to use the space after the tenant’s husband died. Santillan said she continued to use the space after the tenant moved out.
“Other cars were in the same space where I was parked, but they don’t do anything to them, just to me,” Santillan said.
Rodriguez responded that tenants are notified of the parking and towing rules when they move in. She said renters are notified of violations via stickers placed on the windshield in advance of cars being towed, and some may not be aware that the apartment was only recently rented to a tenant.
“If you’re in another space, you get a warning and then a tow,” Rodriguez said. “The violation sticker is placed on the windshield of the vehicle. There’s no way for them to not get that notice. These are things that are explained to them at the time they move in. When there’s a violation and a consequence, they don’t like it unfortunately.”
Although Santillan and Medina say smoke detectors have been missing in art least one unit, Rodriguez said work orders are done in a timely manner. She said work orders address emergencies during COVID-19 conditions, but smoke detectors are considered an emergency.
Medina said he tried to report his complaints to the Countryside Apartments’ district manager, Valeria Marquis, who is Julian’s mother, but had no response. So he elevated his concerns to The CBM Group Vice President Cameo Townzen, whose company manages the Countryside Apartments complex and other affordable housing apartments.
Medina said he has since noticed some of the Countryside Apartments workers wearing masks, but he said he’s worried they’re not wearing gloves and notices are still posted on his front door.
“We’re doing everything we have to do and they’re just not caring,” said Medina, who is preparing to send a letter to the District Attorney’s Office with a copy to Gov. Gavin Newsom. “There’s no safety and control here. We don’t know what to do. They’re very intimidating people. They speak to you in an intimidating way.”
Todd Henderson, a board member and incoming chair of the Southern California Rental Housing Association’s Legislative Steering Committee, said that although the association does not ensure compliance with COVID-19 guidelines as the county does, the association does educate owners and managers about best practices. Staff may explain topics such as eviction moratoriums and rent increases, or refer its members to forms, legal aid, and information about proper COVID-19 protocols. Information about laws and ordinances that apply to property managers is available at the housing association’s website, socalrha.org, and the association offers educational seminars on fair housing.
“Those are things we can do to reduce conflict between managers and residents,” Henderson said. “We take calls from tenants all the time. We can’t give them legal advice, but we can point them to resources and answer questions to the best of our ability.”