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DA Investigates Hayward Landlord Over Contaminated Water

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(Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

(Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

HAYWARD (CBS 5) — Following a CBS 5 report, the Alameda County District Attorney’s office is investigating a Hayward landlord accused of providing his tenants contaminated water.

The investigation surprised tenants’ rights attorney Bill Simpich, who has rarely seen anything like it.

“I can only think of a couple of cases where the district attorney has ever been involved, involving a landlord’s actions against their tenants,” Simplich said.

“What happened here is so reprehensible; it just illustrates the gravity of what this man did,” he said.

Simplich is referring to Richard Thomas, who is the landlord. CBS 5 found Thomas at his offices in Oakland, but he didn’t want to talk on camera about what was found in the water.

“Grit, more grit, and sand,” said resident Patt Rose.

“It was yellow. It had an overwhelming smell of Clorox,” said Katrina Rodriguez.

Rose and Rodriguez are among the six families who live on Harvey Avenue in Hayward, drinking and bathing in water from a well with no chlorination system. Instead, the well opening was blasted with occasional cups of Clorox bleach, poured directly down the pipe.

CBS 5 worked with a professional lab to sample water from two of the houses, and one tested positive for coliform bacteria.

“This guy literally was poisoning them by not telling them that they weren’t hooked up to the municipal water supply,” Simpich said.

Tenants said they were left in the dark about where their water came from.

“I had no idea,” tenant Reno Randle said. The lease he showed CBS 5 made no mention of well water. Initially he and his wife, Mashawn Amey, were afraid to speak on camera, worried about being evicted if they complained. But they changed their minds after the initial report and the positive test results.

“I am very upset about it,” said Randle, whose family has been drinking and bathing in the water for three years.

“A lot of times there was a lot of sand in the bottom of the water, the water was brown,” he said. “But that’s basically what is here to drink, what is here to bathe in, so that is what we did.”

Both Randle and Amey both complained of chronic stomach pain, hair loss, and more.

“My eyes are always blurry, they always sting,” Randle said.

“My skin is peeling in the palm of my hands,” Amey said.

The possibility that these illnesses are coming from the tap leaves them sick with worry.

“You’re supposed to be secure, you’re supposed to be feeling like you are at home, you’re safe,” said Amey, starting to weep. “And here this person is endangering your kids, your health, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

After CBS 5’s investigation, the Alameda County Department of Environmental Health issued a rare notice to boil the tap water before using. But that brings little comfort to tenants still under lease to Thomas.

“You’re just another person paying rent in one of [his] places, and [he] really [doesn’t] give a crap about you,” said Randle.

With more than 200 previous lawsuits involving Thomas, tenants’ rights attorney Simpich believes Thomas is a landlord who fights compliance with the law.

“This should go to the D.A.,” said Simpich.

Previously the City of Hayward had taken no action. As of Wednesday, the city told CBS 5 in a letter that both fecal coliform and E. coli were discovered in the water, so tenants should not drink it. The city is now ordering the landlord to supply the tenants’ bottled water until the well is deemed safe for drinking.

And starting on Thursday, the city will fine Richard Thomas and wife Victoria every day until the water tests clean.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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