by Marion Merriouns
The United Farm Workers is an organization for the people led by Cesar Chavez, who fought for equal rights for Hispanic farm workers. The National Farm Workers is a separate organization, not to be confused with the United Farm Workers. The National Farm Workers have nothing to do with equality; in fact, this organization is trying to strong arm long time Afro American tenants out of their San Francisco apartments.
Vista Del Monte is a HUD-subsidized apartment complex located on Diamond Heights in San Francisco, one of the city’s highest and most scenic hills. The apartments were built in the early ‘70s for moderate to low income working families. Tenants have long been plagued, however, by a revolving door of incompetent managers and property owners. Because of management incompetency, tenants take the brunt of National Farm Workers’ mistakes.
In August 2009 Afro American and Hispanic tenants were targeted by a Vista Del Monte manager investigating unreported income. The manager threatened tenants with eviction if they refused to sign an investigation document called 4506-T, which would allow them to pull tax returns and W-2 records for the previous three years. Many tenants did have minor income issues, but the managers misrepresented the tenants’ income information to their superiors, the National Farm Workers. Some tenants were under investigation for six months or longer. Tenants are walking on eggshells.
Between 2006 and 2010, Vista Del Monte has had five different managers; two were fired for horrible tenant record keeping, and the tenants don’t know what happened with the other three managers. All of them were losing tenants’ birth certificates, social security cards, job paystubs, whole tenant files and verification forms. The property owners fired a maintenance man in 2002 for stealing tenants’ files. Many tenants had their identities stolen; their social security numbers were used in Los Angeles.
One tenant who we will name Lisa stated that the manager called her, accusing her of unreported income. She went to the office and was shocked to learn that the unreported income was earned in Los Angeles. Then the manager received a fax from the employer apologizing to Lisa, stating, “Your social security number was used by a man.” Lisa thought that would be it; however, the manager advised Lisa she is still responsible for the unreported income.
The manager also told Lisa she would have to sign the 4506-T form for an investigation. Lisa declined. The manager threatened Lisa, stating, “If you don’t sign the 4506-T, that will be cause for eviction and you will be sent a letter to meet with Sabrina Padama and Alfonso Trujillo of the National Farm Workers.” Lisa was intimidated and living in fear of losing her housing due to something that wasn’t her mistake.
Lisa sought help from Housing Rights of San Francisco, who sent a letter to the National Farm Workers on Lisa’s behalf. Lisa states: “I lost so much sleep behind management accusing me of unreported income. I knew it wasn’t my fault, but management was trying to intimidate me into thinking I was wrong. Tenants have to fight the National Farm Workers to stop their bullying tactics.”
Another problem was that many tenants didn’t keep their paperwork as evidence, so those tenants received bogus 60-day notices to move out or were strong armed into a repayment agreement for more money than they owed or could afford. Furthermore, tenants who submitted evidence of reported income to the National Farm Workers were told by the property supervisor: “During our investigation, your documents were not generated from our system, and the manager signatures and logos were cut and pasted. At this time the National Farm Workers are giving you 60 days to vacate, and you have to sign a repayment plan, plus you will be reported to the Attorney General for fraud.”
Tenants were not given a chance. And National Farm Workers are mainly targeting long time Afro American tenants, focusing on three- and four-bedrooms apartments. Once the National Farm Workers force them out, those apartments will increase to market rent.
Renee Collins has been living in her four-bedroom apartment at Vista Del Monte for 10 years. She was strong armed into signing a 4506-T investigation document by the manager. “I went to the office just to ask why hasn’t my rent been adjusted in six months,” she said. “Just that one question caused an unreported income investigation. I have been under investigation for almost a year. However, I gave management my evidence of reported income that was given to the previous managers in December of 2009. I didn’t hear back from management until April 29, 2010.
“When the National Farm Workers were in the office, I knew the issue was going to be resolved. Then all of a sudden, management told me my evidence was all phony. Then I was giving a 60-day notice to move. I was shocked. Then management told me to sign a repayment agreement for $18,000. I declined to sign.”
Ever since the current manager has been managing Vista Del Monte apartments, the National Farm Workers have ignored many tenant complaints for harassment. The manager has been intimidating me and my family. I’m a single mother with two boys, going to college for my master’s degree. I have been living at Vista Del Monte for 34 years.
The manager strong armed me into signing the 4506-T. I just went to the office to make corrections in my tenant file. The next thing I know, I’m under investigation. Almost seven months later, I was served with a bogus 60-day notice to vacate, then a 10-day notice to vacate.
I don’t why the manager is harassing me and using retaliation tactics on me – maybe because I’m the president of the Vista Del Monte Tenant Association. I’ve written letters to many politicians for help with investigating this so-called unreported income stuff by the National Farm Workers. However, I found out through the manager and director of property management that the National Farm Workers are angry with me because I have not vacated my apartment and I’m trying to bring tenants together to fight their evictions.
Recently the manager had her sister harass me, threatening to cause bodily harm. I had to request a temporary stay away order for the manager and her sister; well the judge stated the manager personally did not harm me, yet I’m in fear of the manager and her sister. Now I’m being harassed by the manager and her sister with legal papers; they falsely accused me of harassment. I have back to back court dates for issues I didn’t even do or have knowledge of. The manager is trying to push me out through retaliation, which is eviction.
This is just a small chip of tenants at Vista Del Monte Apartments being strong armed by the National Farm Workers. Housing Rights of San Francisco, Bay Area Legal and the Human Rights Commission have been overwhelmed with Vista Del Monte tenants complaining about retaliation, harassment and strong armed evictions. Housing Rights of San Francisco sent surveys out to tenants to report lost and missing tenant files, management not adjusting rent accordingly, missing HUD documents, and to address the question: Why are so many tenants under investigation by National Farm Workers?
Bay Area Legal is overwhelmed with Vista Del Monte tenants’ cases and the Human Rights Commission of San Francisco reported over 30 tenants are under investigation for unreported income of between $5,000 and $30,000. The real problem is the people under investigation are mostly Afro American tenants.
The National Farm Workers admitted to the Human Rights Commission that previous managers were improperly keeping tenant files. So tenants at Vista Del Monte are wondering why HUD hasn’t started any investigations on Vista Del Monte Apartments. Furthermore, why are tenants being served first with a bogus 60-day notice, then a 10-day notice, then an unlawful detainer? Why are tenants being reported to the Attorney General before going to trial? The National Farm Workers stance is let the judge figure it out. Many tenants don’t to know how to represent themselves, so many hard working families may be evicted due to the National Farm Workers’ mistakes.
Marion Merriouns, president of the Vista Del Monte Tenants Association, can be reached at email@example.com. She would welcome any offers of help or advice.