The Santa Barbara Tenants Union orchestrated a meeting Monday, January 17, between a property manager and tenants of the Tropical Gardens Residential Community, a trailer park on the Eastside, to discuss complaints about severe cases of black mold and other uninhabitable conditions. The trailers have less than 500 square feet of living space, and occupants range from a single person to families with children.
Adan and Nohemi Medina have lived with their 9-year-old son in Tropical Gardens for 12 years. About three years ago, Adan Medina began noticing leaks in the roof, walls, and floors, and mold growing in several places. The trailer, and many others, has a distinct mold smell, only slightly covered by the smell of bleach from his most recent attempts to clean the spots himself. Medina found mold under the carpet, in the cabinets, bathroom, and in other small crevices where water has leaked. He said the mold has caused some health issues for himself and his wife — a cough or chest pain — but more concerning was his son, Humberto, who has had several bouts of bronchitis and recently contracted COVID-19, which Medina and the Tenants Union claim was made worse by the trailer conditions.
Medina said he notified the property manager, Michael Cirillo, but nothing had been done and no one had even inspected the trailer until he contacted the Tenants Union. “All they have is excuses,” Medina said. Though on Monday the union was able to persuade Cirillo not to evict Medina, no other resolution was reached.
Cirillo claimed property owner Pacific Current Partners only became aware of the conditions of the trailers on Friday, January 14, the day after the Tenants Union emailed the list of complaints, also claiming the issues stemmed from before the property was bought by the current owner. However, documents Medina provided showed he had been requesting work on his trailer since 2018. “We are working with the residents and the Tenants Union to address all open issues,” Cirillo told the Independent. “It has always been and continues to be our intention to address all habitability concerns and reasonable service requests promptly upon learning about them. We regret that the residents felt their concerns were not promptly addressed or heard, and we will review our processes to ensure any communication gaps are corrected.”
After the union was contacted by Medina, seven other tenants came to them with similar complaints. The majority of Tropical Gardens residents are Spanish-speaking, according to David Herrera, campaign leader of the union, who translated at the meeting, which makes it difficult for them to find the necessary resources or help.
The trailers rent for anywhere between $1,300 and $1,800, plus electricity, which runs between $75 and $100. Rents have been raised despite no repairs being made, and claims have been made that the “onsite manager neglects repairs, uses racial slurs, yells, and engages in other forms of verbal abuse against tenants when they verbally report complaints related to habitability onsite,” as outlined in the unions’ detailed letter to Pacific Current Partners on January 13, which was also sent to the Santa Barbara City Council, City Attorney Ariel Calonne, city assistant prosecutor Denny Wei, and members of the Housing Authority of Santa Barbara and United Way.
The meeting was arranged after Medina, who is recovering from a back injury, was served a three-day-or-quit notice in early January. The Tenants Union claimed the eviction was “invalid” due to the inhospitable conditions created by the mold, and that Medina was entitled to compensation for living in such conditions. The union sent a lengthy email addressed to Pacific Current Partners on January 13, detailing the issues with Medina’s unit and the seven other units, and also forwarded the email to Herrera, who said he felt this pressure of public attention was necessary to compel Pacific Current Partners to agree to the meeting.
The outside of the trailers appear abandoned: Plastic tarps on the roofs are held down by rocks, peeling paint reveals dark mold growing in the wood, metal hinges are rusted, and there are holes that have since been covered by plywood and nails. Inside, walls are warped from water, and floors and carpets cover damp spots where black mold can be seen growing. Windows and their panes are warped from water as well, and some residents have also reported termites, covering tiny pinholes where bugs have chewed through electrical tape.
As Herrera and other members of the Santa Barbara Tenants Union walked through the park, the smell of mold and petrichor blended together. It rained for about 30 minutes on Monday, but for the residents at Tropical Gardens, this meant hours of cleaning with bleach and trying to soak up the water that has leaked through the ceiling and walls.
The Tenants Union will be conducting an inventory of the damage of each trailer over the coming weeks, to assess the level of repairs necessary. All those with mold will most likely have to be relocated, Herrera said, as the damage is too deep to repair.