Photos courtesy of Charlena Valencia and Joelle Montes.

Humboldt’s Hostile Housing

HSU aims to build better tenant-landlord relationships.

By: Rachel Marty

“I was cleaning and found that mold had covered the entire under part of my mattress and also my belongings,” Charlena Valencia said. “There was also visible infected mold on my clothing.” 

Valencia, a Humboldt State student, grew worried after finding large amounts of mold in her home as well as beginning to break out in a concerning rash. Valencia said the rash started on their hands. They were originally treating it as eczema and assumed it was due to repeated hand washing and sanitizing. Soon the rash spread to their entire body and they seeked further medical advice.

With medical confirmation from a physician that mold was the cause of their health issues, the student brought up the situation to their landlord. The student claims the landlord showed no concern and an explicit negligence of the matter. 

Valencia and their partner, Joelle Montes, spoke at the Arcata City Council meeting on Feb. 3 pleading for more strict regulations for landlords.

“Myself and others would like to see regulations put in place to protect the community from these types of situations,” Montes said. “The students are an obvious important part of this community and economy, they should be recognized for their contributions. All tenants should be valued and protected.”

The two HSU students also brought up the electric and gas hazards they struggled with, including a gas leak.

“My partner and I had no functional heating and after spending night after night in the freezing cold and recent storms, I finally called PG&E myself,” Montes said. “We might not have ever known we had a leak if I did not do that.”

Due to the gas leak, the apartment was red tagged and they were immediately evicted. According to The City of Arcata’s Substandard Housing Renter Guide a landlord must provide other housing accommodations in this type of situation. 

“If the inspector find that problems to be so hazardous as to create an immediate threat to life or limb, the City may proceed with eviction due to the hazardous conditions,” the Substandard Housing Guide says. “Eviction would be an extreme case, and if it were to happen, it is the obligation of the landlord to provide temporary lodging.” 

“She only got us one day at a motel,” Montez said. 

The students had to make their own accommodations after that one night. Luckily, Valencia and Montez had a friend offer them a room to temporary stay in. Although they now have safe temporary housing, the situation continues to put extreme stress and pressure on the two students. 

“This whole problem has really affected my academics. I had to literally drop all my classes to deal with all of this,” Valencia said. “We’re students, how are we supposed to work and do academics on top of all this?” 

Council member, Emily Goldstein, responded to the two students through the Zoom city council meeting with a hopeful acknowledgement of their hardships. 

“Very impressed with you young people willing to stand up for yourselves and I think it’s something as a council we should really consider looking into infractions for rental properties and safety standards for our renters in Arcata,” said Goldstein. “Their story I think we all know is not unique and that’s really unfortunate.”

It’s encouraging to see officials recognize students like Valencia and Montes, and Goldstein’s not the only one stepping up.

A new program led by the university’s Off-Campus Housing Coordinator, Chant’e Catt, aims to better the relationships between landlords and tenants. It hopes to help out students in situations like Valencia and Montes. It’s called the Good Neighbor program and it’s been in the works for over two years.

Catt says the program was born through a lot of ground-up community research. They held half a dozen town hall meetings on the topic. 

“We invited landlords, students, community members, pretty much anybody that has to do with housing to come in and talk about their experiences with housing,” Catt said. 

They found that a lot of tenants need resources to help them understand how to rent, what their rights and responsibilities are, and what the process is actually like.

“Sometimes our families can’t teach what it’s like to be a good tenant. Sometimes we don’t get the information we need in our family systems to adult well,” Catt said. 

But being a good tenant is only half of it. Being a good landlord is crucial in building strong community relationships. It’s a landlord’s duty to provide a habitable living environment. 

While this may be true, we also know that some landlords don’t even deal with tenants housing related issues. Students like Valencia and Montes complain about landlords that simply ignore their complaints of mold, gas leaks, or lack of electricity. 

Prioritizing housing related issues, following all the city regulations and creating habitable conditions for tenants are important practices to form good relationships within our community. The problems we see between landlords and tenants stem from systematic issues and a lack of understanding on both sides. Programs that aid in educating tenants and landlords, such as the Good Neighbor program have the potential to be extremely beneficial to our community. 

“Landlords have equity and they are taking a chance and a risk renting to people,” Catt said. “Sometimes people don’t know how to take care of their place, but there are also landlords out there that don’t follow proper rules.”

There needs to be stronger tenant-landlord relationships, as well as better regulated consequences for both parties. Regardless of their behavior, tenants often do not get their deposit back, meanwhile a neglectful landlord seems to have minimal consequences. 

“Beyond the law and all that, we’re human. We should not be having people sleeping in mold infested bedrooms or exposed to gas leaks or broken heating in 30 degree weather,” Valencia said.

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