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Tenants Criticize Poor Conditions : Housing: Residents of subsidized apartments in Thousand Oaks complain of lax maintenance, harassment by managers.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Arboles Apartments resident Julia Ramos keeps her door open all day to combat the smell of leaking gas from her kitchen stove, a problem she said she has asked the complex’s property managers to fix for more than a year.

Miguel Osorino said he has been waiting months for the hole in his kitchen floor to be repaired. And 12-year-old Theresa Ibarra and her sister, Mary, 9, talk about flocks of mosquitoes born and bred in pools of stagnant water in the complex’s laundry room.

For these residents and others in the 48-unit complex, it does not seem right that these kinds of problems persist in a federally subsidized apartment building in Thousand Oaks.

“It’s deplorable,” said one longtime resident, who declined to give her name. “A lot of these people don’t have sanitary living conditions.”

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A group of residents is working on a letter and petition outlining their complaints, which they say extend from shoddy maintenance to harassment by new property managers. They hope to appeal to officials at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

HUD subsidizes the Los Arboles Apartments, one of the first affordable housing complexes built in Thousand Oaks more than 20 years ago. Residents generally pay about one-third of their income for rent in the one-, two- and three-bedroom units, and HUD pays the rest. For Ramos, the small two-bedroom apartment she shares with her husband and two children costs about $690 a month.

In addition to problems with leaky ceilings and faucets, torn screens and broken blinds, some residents say they feel intimidated by a new on-site property manager, Natalia Noboa. Many of the children who have grown up in the assisted-housing complex say they are now shooed off the lawns they have been playing games on all their lives.

“It was a lot better before,” said 11-year-old Jordan Merrill, trudging along a sidewalk instead of the forbidden lawn.

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Leigh Easler, who oversees the complex for Insignia Management Group, a South Carolina-based property management group, said the group of angry residents represents only a small proportion of the people living at the apartments on Calle Haya. The majority are happy with their living circumstances, she said, and with the new manager’s enforcement of long-neglected leasing rules.

“We have a handful of tenants out there that are complaining because they are used to not having any rules,” Easler said.

“Tenants have a tendency to get a little lax,” she added. “Then when someone comes in and starts enforcing the rules, it’s a shock to their systems.”

But resident Susan Sanchez disagreed, saying she believes most others are disgruntled as well. “Almost everybody” attended both open meetings, she said.

“It’s hard to unite people,” Sanchez said. “But this is almost unanimous.”

Fears of eviction run rampant among the residents.

One man said he received a citation because his son rode his bike over a lawn, which managers said could damage a newly installed sprinkler system. He declined to give his name for fear of retribution.

“This is a residential community with a lot of kids and no play area,” he said. “For years managers have been willing to overlook the rules and let the kids play on the lawn.

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“Nobody has ever been terrified of management before,” he added.

Noboa said there is no reason to be terrified of her. She has told children not to play on the lawns, she said, to protect a newly installed sprinkler system. But she said she is never mean or impolite to tenants, as they have accused her.

She and Easler acknowledge the extraordinary number of repairs that need to be done around the complex. Easler said Insignia has had a number of problems with building managers who have “skipped out” on the complex and left a backlog of maintenance chores. The group recently received a $94,000 grant from HUD to do earthquake repairs on the complex, and that work is scheduled to begin soon, Easler said.

In the meantime, Noboa said her husband, the complex’s maintenance man, is working as fast as he can to correct the leaks, cracks and plumbing problems.

“We do need some patience from the people,” Noboa said. “We just started and we need to catch up.”


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