ConsumerWatch: Bay Area Renter Gets Slow Response To Mouse Problem

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A deer mouse. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

A deer mouse. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

(CBS 5) – A Bay Area company that purchases foreclosed homes and then rents them out has said it is improving the way it responds to tenants complaints, after a renter said a rodent problem was not addressed for months.

Christy Meredith and her family moved into a Waypoint Home last year, expecting to eventually buy the place under the company’s program that offers a “path to home ownership.”

“This was my dream house. We hoped to be here forever,” Christy Meredith said.

But that dream soon turned into a nightmare. Back in July, Meredith said the house became infested with mice, and her counter tops were littered with mouse droppings.

“We’re catching three to four mice a day,” she told ConsumerWatch.

But Meredith said more than a dozen calls and e-mails to Waypoint failed to result in any action.

“Anytime I would call them for a problem, they would just blow me off,” Meredith claimed. “My (3-year-old) son is terrified.”

Meredith said the last straw came in mid-November when her brother was bitten by a mouse.

Tenant Rights lawyer Joseph Tobener said renters in California who are struggling with mice, bedbugs or any other health threat don’t have to suffer in silence.

“Tenants have really outstanding rights in California,” Tobner said.

Tobener recommends first contacting the landlord, preferably in writing or by email, and notifying him or her of the problem. He said tenants should give the landlord a reasonable amount of time to fix the problem.

“If it’s a heating issue, you would give them a couple of days, No hot water – 24 hours.” Tobener recommends about a week or more, to deal with a rodent infestation. He said if the landlord does not respond to the first letter, send another.

If that doesn’t work, Tobener said tenants should file a complaint with their local government agency that deals with housing issues. He says that’s usually the Building or Health department in your county.

“It’ll put a lot of pressure on the landlord. They’ll be responsible for penalties payable to the city if they don’t make the repairs,” Tobener said.

Although California law does allow tenants to fix problems on their own, and deduct the cost of the remedy from their rent, a practice known as “Repair and Deduct,” Tobener doesn’t recommend it.

He said landlords can turn around and sue the tenant for non-payment of rent.

“That’s not the position the tenant wants to be in,” Tobener said.

If contacting a local government agency fails to bring about a fix, Tobener said, it may be time to call a lawyer.

Christy Meredith called ConsumerWatch. And we contacted Waypoint.

The company told us “we sincerely regret that this happened,” and “we clearly failed to meet Ms. Meredith and her family’s expectations.” It also said it has implemented changes in the way it receives and responds to customer complaints.

Christy Meredith said an exterminator finally came to her home November 26th. She and her family have decided to move out anyway.

Waypoint’s Full Response:

Waypoint Homes is committed to maintaining quality homes for our residents. In this case, we clearly failed to meet Ms. Meredith and her family’s expectations, as well as our own expectations and standards. We sincerely regret that this happened and are glad to have reached a mutually satisfactory resolution.

We’re a new and growing company and we are always striving to learn and improve to meet the unique challenges of managing multiple scattered properties. We recently implemented a 24/7 maintenance hotline and we now have a fully staffed in-house maintenance team in order to quickly and professionally address resident issues that naturally arise with single-family homes. We are grateful for the detailed feedback Ms. Meredith provided and will use it to examine and improve our processes and procedures so that in future we can achieve our commitment to providing outstanding service.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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