Jim Leslie got an eviction notice via email the day after Christmas—minutes after he noticed a 2-foot-wide bubble clinging to his bedroom ceiling, like a blob creature who escaped from a science fiction movie.
Leslie and his best friend, William Merritt, who is battling throat cancer, were among tenants in 23 units at the Carson Pines Apartments in Carson City who on Dec. 26 were notified they had six days to vacate. The second floor of the building was about to be condemned because the landlord had failed to fix rotting stairwells and an unstable roof — despite warnings and threats issued by the city for nearly two years.
“I knew what the bubble was,” said Leslie, a computer technician who was then working remotely for three clients. “I realized that the ceiling was held up by nothing but paint. I got my computer and electronics out of the way.”
That day, a winter storm delivered a river of rain followed by about several inches of “Sierra cement” snow that blanketed Nevada’s capital city. Leslie, Merritt and the other 22 families who suddenly were ordered to leave their homes frantically tried to find other places to land before the Jan. 1 deadline. By nightfall Dec. 26, another ominous bubble began growing on Leslie and Merritt’s living room ceiling. It was slowly expanding like a giant, white amoeba.
The next morning, Leslie was awakened from a fitful sleep by an automated phone call from his Roomba vacuum cleaner. The robot’s sensors had encountered water while rolling across the living room floor. “We had two inches of water in the living room,” he said. “When we woke up the next day, the living room bubble was replaced by a hole. It looked like someone had fired a missile through the roof.”
Things got worse from there as more winter storms marched over the Sierra to hammer Northern Nevada. Leslie, Merritt and the other tenants of Carson Pines—including families with small children, elderly residents and disabled people—alternately battled rain, snow, slush and freezing temperatures in an effort to vacate the building during the final week of 2022 and the first week of this year. Most are low-income workers or live on fixed incomes and disability payments. None were prepared for the disaster that plunged their lives into chaos as soggy Christmas trees still stood in their apartments.
On Jan. 31, a Carson City judge fined landlord Bill Kranz $500 for contempt, ending a nearly two-year round of court appearances. Kranz, who has sold the property, did not respond to requests for comment, but his lawyer told the court his client couldn’t afford to pay to fix the building’s deteriorating and dangerous conditions.
By the end of January, a few of the 50 or more tenants had found permanent places to stay, but most had not. Some were in motels, or surfing couches in the homes of friends, or living in their cars. They received limited help from government and nonprofit groups, but the region’s safety net is full of holes and unprepared for so many people thrown into dire circumstances in so short a time. For the dozens of tenants made homeless through no fault of their own, help came from strangers who saw posts on social media and in newspaper stories. They opened their hearts to the plight of people they had never met.
“I saw the story on the Carson Now (website) and the Facebook page and I just wanted to help,” said Chelsie Padilla, who with her two young sons had once suffered through a no-cause eviction in Carson City that forced the family to live in their car. “I just jumped in and helped people move their stuff. I knew what they were going through. This is what humans are supposed to do when people are in need. That’s what it means to be part of a community.”
The Carson Pines debacle underlines housing problems that have been painfully obvious for decades and which have spiked over the last several years. Real estate values have soared, rents skyrocketed and wages remained stagnant. Affordable housing is scarce and often tenuous; landlords aren’t held accountable when tenants suffer due to a property owner’s actions (or inaction); and when lawmakers try to level the landlord-tenant playing field, lobbyists with the most money or political clout usually win the game.
Landlord had two years of warnings
Carson Pines’ legal problems began in May 2021, when animal control officers responding to a complaint noted significant damage to the second floor walkways, court records show. Code inspectors were called in and documented that the building’s supporting structures were rotting away. Several other building code violations were noted and the city filed “chronic nuisance” charges against the landlord.
Kranz entered a not-guilty plea to the charges on June 22, 2021. In October 2021, the city sent a notice of building code violations to the landlord for structural and safety violations involving the foundation, the roof, stairwells, floors and other parts of the two-story building.
A report on a structural inspection in September 2022 by Robison Engineering documented severe damage to the second-story railings, stairwell, decking and roof. “Many of these issues could have been avoided with regular maintenance and proper construction techniques,” the report noted.
At a hearing in Carson City Justice Court on Jan. 6, Judge Kristin Luis ordered that all remaining second-floor tenants must leave their apartments because the second floor isn’t safe. The concrete a stairwells and walkways are cracked and iron supports are deteriorating. The new owner, who took over Jan. 30, is in the process of making repairs.
At the Jan. 6 hearing, which was attended by more than 20 tenants, Thomas Marshall, an engineer contracted by the city, testified that the building’s roof and stairwells are structurally unsafe and could injure or kill residents who remain there. Marshall testified that the recent storms exacerbated the problems.
“We are being thrown out into the streets!” one tenant said from the audience while Marshall was on the witness stand. After the hearing, the few remaining tenants returned to the building at 201 David St. to remove their possessions. Prosecutors asked the judge to sentence Kranz to 25 days in jail for contempt.
On Jan. 31, Judge Luis instead fined Kranz $500. His attorney had argued that the city failed to follow its own procedures and didn’t set clear deadlines for the repairs to be made. But Luis noted that Kranz had plenty of time to mitigate the safety problems and although jail time wasn’t necessarily appropriate punishment, the landlord need to face some consequences for his inaction.
Kranz’s former tenants, meanwhile, are still struggling to get their lives back on track.
“We left so much behind,” said Jamie Burke, who had lived in Carson Pines since 2017 with her husband, Cameron, and their 5-year-old daughter. “Half our life, just gone, for nothing else but pure greed and negligence.” As of Jan. 31, the family was staying with relatives who set up air mattresses in a spare room.
“We are blessed… There are other families that don’t have that luxury right now,” said Burke. Her family thought they had found another apartment, but later declined to sign a lease that added previously undisclosed fees to the $1,400 monthly rent. That’s a common tactic among some landlords, said legal aid lawyers, who are backing a bill in this legislative session to require landlords to disclose such added costs when they advertise for tenants, as described in a sidebar to this story.
A friend set up a GoFundMe account to help the Burke family and several other displaced tenants also have GoFundMe accounts. Links to those appeals can be found on the Carson Pines Help Group Facebook page and are listed in this story.
“We left so much behind. Half our life, just gone, for nothing else but pure greed and negligence.” — Jamie Burke, who had lived in Carson Pines since 2017 with her husband, Cameron, and their 5-year-old daughter.
John Vela, his wife, Adrianna Domaratius, and their dog Blaze were finally able to move out of their apartment on Jan. 6, after their U-Haul truck kept getting stuck in the snow and ice during previous attempts to vacate the building. They are staying in a motel while they try to find another apartment.
“People from the community came by and helped people move or gave us boxes,” Vela said. “Some contributed to our GoFundMe account. That’s about the only good thing in this situation. We met some good people and people (in the complex) we hadn’t talked to before. Tenants moved their belongings and then came back to help other tenants. Carson City Human Services helped a lot. When we find a place, they will pay the security deposit.”
Some of the former residents of Carson Pines received enough assistance to find temporary housing, but are worried about being able to find a more permanent solution. The average rent at Carson Pines was about $800 a month for a one-bedroom, but the average rent in Carson City is $1,400, and $1,600 per month in Reno, according to RentCafe.com.
Dee Dee Foremaster, executive director of the Rural Center for Independent Living and the Do Drop In day refuge for the unhoused and mentally ill in Carson City, said the displaced tenants have few options. On Jan. 19, Foremaster asked the Carson City Board of Supervisors to form a panel to explore ways to make sure situations like Carson Pines won’t be repeated.
Grants and deferred-payment loans to rehabilitate low-income housing are available and the city and state need to increase incentives for building affordable housing, she said. “People need housing first; a roof over their head before anything else,” Foremaster said. “We don’t have near enough housing for the working poor and the low-income families. And when people get housing (subsidy) vouchers, many landlords refuse to accept them.”
Foremaster has known Kranz, the landlord, for more than 40 years. He often has helped provide low-income housing to her clients, she said. “(Kranz) should have made those repairs, but the city should have worked with him, not just sent threatening letters,” she said. “The whole thing could have been handled differently instead of leaving the tenants holding the bag.”
The Nevada Housing Coalition reports there are limited opportunities for the 81.5 percent of extremely low-income Nevadans who pay more than half their income in rent. Affordable housing programs are available for residents making 80% or below the median income, about $45,000 a year in Nevada. The state lacks more than 84,000 units for those with extremely low incomes (less than $29,200), according to the Coalition. New rental properties are being built, but those often are luxury units, which generate larger profits for developers.
Existing affordable housing, Foremaster said, often involves blighted properties. “The city needs to work with landlords to see what can be done,” she said. “Red tags (condemnation) should be a last resort. That puts people out in the street and desperate to get a roof over their heads.”
Some tenants queried lawyers about filing a lawsuit against Kranz, but were told there isn’t much that can be done legally.
“There’s nothing in the (landlord-tenant) statute that’s going to be very helpful,” said Drew Wheaton, supervising attorney at Northern Nevada Legal Aid. “There are not a lot of remedies there. (The tenants) may have a negligence claim, but those are pretty involved and may take a while.”
Lawmakers could change that dynamic, he said.
“There could be steps put in place if there are large structural issues, structural integrity problems – maybe requiring all tenants to be notified, not just the landlord,” Wheaton said. “That way the tenants would have more information about what’s coming down the pipeline. Also, there could be remedies in place on the back end, so if the landlord doesn’t do anything and the tenants are forced to move out, for valid reasons like safety, the landlord could be on the hook for finding alternate housing or paying for alternate housing.”
How to help: tenants’ GoFundMe appeals
Some of the displaced tenants who have set up GoFundMe accounts are surviving one day at a time as they look for a way to find more permanent housing. They include:
Cameron and Jamie Burke and their 5-year-old daughter thought they found an apartment that cost about $500 more a month than they were paying at Carson Pines, but when they went to sign a lease they discovered a host of hidden fees that made the apartment unaffordable. Family friend Casey Simoni, who set up the GoFundMe account, wrote that the Burkes: “are not a family that lives outside their means. They don’t normally ask for any help. I am asking if any of you can find it in your hearts and wallets to raise enough money for a deposit on a new home for them… Even if you can only share this post, it will help. $5 bucks will help. Your compassion will help.”
Shawna Alverado, a single mom with two children, ages 13 and 7. The Dec. 26 notice to vacate, she said, “came as a complete shock … we have no family here and we have nowhere to go. This has been extremely hard on my kids especially my son who is 13 and on the (autism) spectrum. … I am asking please whatever you can do to help get us into a new place.” On Jan. 20 she thought her family could move into another apartment, but was rejected because she has a large dog, a support animal for her son. “I literally have no fight and no tears left in me,” she wrote on the Carson Pines Facebook page on Jan. 20.
Aprille Knight, her boyfriend and their 1-year-old son moved into the apartment building in July and were not told about he impending condemnation. “My boyfriend and I only have one income and we are struggling with finances,” she wrote.
Laura Hanson is a single mom with two children. “I’m working three jobs just to scrape by now and have to take off the time just to do all of this. So I’m missing out on money and spending money I don’t have to move… I’m raising money to help with the moving cost and getting into a place.”
Jim Leslie said William Merritt’s GoFundMe donations will help him and his friend meet the costs of staying in California while Merritt gets his cancer surgery Feb. 3 and to find housing in Carson City thereafter. The account has so far raised about $2,500 of its $3,500 goal.
Miles Eylar, his wife and his daughter have a place to move into, but are staying in a motel until they can do so. “… I just really need help paying for the deposit and a hotel/motel,” Eylar wrote.
Another tenant identified by the initials, S.A., wrote that he has been homeless before and is probably going to wind up on the streets again. He noted that he had the apartment for two years, but it was “ripped away within days! I don’t want to be homeless again. I just started doing good. I’ve never asked for much at all in life. But I am in need of help now.”
Sandi A and her adult daughter also are struggling to find another place to stay: “I don’t have a vehicle and the money I have is not even enough. Everything right now seems like a nightmare every day. All I know is I can’t give up. I won’t. … I survived a lot, and can’t just give up and be homeless again.”
The donations have been a godsend, Merritt said. “I feel I have the whole community rooting for me and there’s no better feeling. I cry happy tears and it helps me push through this after your kind words too. What a wonderful place to call home. I feel like you’re all family.”
Chelsie Padilla, who with her sons, ages 10 and 7, helped three tenant families move out of Carson Pines during the first week of January, said she has been the beneficiary of random acts of kindness” and wanted to pay that debt forward.
“I just jumped in and helped people move their stuff. I knew what they were going through. This is what humans are supposed to do when people are in need. That’s what it means to be part of a community.” — Chelsie Padilla, who once went through a no-cause eviction.
“Having gone through a no-cause eviction, I knew there’s no help out there, no rental assistance, no affordable housing,” she said. “People who haven’t been through it just don’t understand (the lack of services) and how hard it is getting a place to stay if you are kicked out of your apartment. You look for help and keep hitting dead ends.”
One of the tenants they helped move out was a 75-year-old veteran who couldn’t understand why he had to leave his home. “He kept breaking down and wasn’t prepared for this,” Padilla said. “He just didn’t know what to do. It’s heartbreaking.”
She told her sons that they had a duty to assist others, even if it meant fighting the snow, slush and freezing temperatures. She reminded them of the time they had to live in a Ford Festiva and the people who assisted them.
“Humans are built to do that, that’s why we have emotions, to help other humans and care about them when they are in need,” Padilla said. “Religion or politics or whether or not you know them doesn’t matter. Just help! A little bit of help here and there makes a big difference.”
This article needs to be sent to the Governor’s office, and to the NV GOED who are both pushing for more tax abatements for tesla and musk.
With an planned expansion of the tesla plant and an additional 3000 plus workers out there, the concept of any affordable housing anywhere in northern nevada will be gone.
To give more tax breaks to an established company that is worth in excess of $1billion dollars is wrong. The taxes that should be paid, could help in more ways then not. Increasing affordable housing, taking care of roads, (which will fall apart with the gov plan to suspend the gas tax), etc
Nevada has never taken care of those who need help…and this article and the conditions these people who forced to live in is a prime example.
Kudos for the judge for not putting up with the landlords crap, but, a $500. fine? Seriously, let’s make these slime landlords pay for being slime…
A 500 dollar fine!!! That’s it? These slumlords get away with way to much in this state and it needs to end. There needs to be renters rights and laws for the renters, NOT the greedy corporate slumlords that get to do whatever they want.
Good report, Frank Mullen.
suggest that you include information for those who would like to contribute to a GoFundMe account, on how to access it, such as a website link that people could click . Also, explain the automatic 15% “tip” and how that can be adjusted online by the donor. Also, whether donations are tax-deductible.
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