Above: Photo by No More Slumlords of a rundown house that a landlord is attempting to rent.
By Lauren Baker
FRESNO— For many Fresnans, home is not necessarily a welcoming place.
Many families live in unsafe and unhealthy conditions, such as in units with broken plumbing, toxic mold, rodent infestations and faulty wiring and gas lines. In addition, absentee and negligent landlords contribute to blighted conditions and homes where criminal activities take place unchecked.
This is why Sergio and Ashley Cortes founded No More Slumlords, a social media campaign which urges Fresnans to get involved to ensure a safe and healthy living environment for all.
The Cortes’ have a unique perspective, as they are former on-site managers for one of the biggest rental companies in Fresno. Because they experienced these illegal and unethical practices by local landlords, they started investigating the shadowy rental industry over three years ago.
“We started out taking photos, collecting data and getting people’s stories,” said Sergio Cortes. “It was then that we decided to start up No More Slumlords and utilize the power of social media.”
No More Slumlords is a group of volunteers who donate their time to investigating and spreading awareness about the slumlord issue in and around Fresno.
The term “slumlord” is used to describe an individual or company who purposefully neglects their properties and tenant’s concerns, leading to unhealthy and illegal conditions. Often slumlords operate remotely and target low-income families as renters who may not have the means to find a better unit.
“The market is dominated by slumlords where the demand for low-income housing is high for families that need safe, affordable places to live,” said Sergio Cortes. “Slumlords are very strategic. They target these neighborhoods and buy up most of those properties so they can leave less options to low-income families who cannot easily move from one place to another.”
According to the organization’s research, 46% of Fresno’s population is made up of low-income families, 52% of all Fresnans are renters.
Ashley Cortes believes the constant demand for low-income housing is due to the high levels of poverty in Fresno.
“We have a lot of business practices that take advantage of people that are poor, people that are not educated and don’t know what their rights are,” said Ashley Cortes. “Half ofthese city-models come into a city like Fresno where city codes are not being upheld and not holding these business owners accountable, and I think that’s the number one reason why slumlords operate in our city.”
On Feb. 24, No More Slumlords launched their video campaign titled “Reclaim Fresno,” which documents the rental industry statistics and stories of some who are affected by it. Their campaign prompts viewers to share the video on social media and sign the petition on the movement’s website: www.nomoreslumlords.org.
At the time of publishing this story, the video had been seen over 5,000 times.
After this outpouring of support, the team behind No More Slumlords took their petition and a letter detailing their campaign goals to City Hall on March 3, 2015. They are also planning on setting up meetings with Mayor Ashley Swearengin and City Council members.
The Cortes’ campaign has garnered much support from the Fresno community, which appears eager for advocacy on behalf of tenants.
“We’ve had very little negative feedback from the community,” said Ashley Cortes. “We’re getting so much more support than we expected. The response from the community has been ‘Finally, something is being done.’”
No More Slumlords believes that this issue touches all Fresno families, and asserts that this is the most pressing challenge for the city.
“Almost every person knows someone or is experiencing this themselves, and they’ve had enough,” said Sergio Cortes.
Sergio and Ashley Cortes urge anyone who is living in a unit owned by a neglectful landlord to start documenting everything, including taking photos and getting everything in writing from property owners and managers.
While No More Slumlords does not offer legal service, Fresno Tenants Together (559-426-5538) does provide legal representation and advice.
“Start speaking up,” said Ashley Cortes “Get involved with other tenants or with us. It’s time to make changes in our city.”