HAYWARD (CBS 5) — When you turn on the tap, you assume that water comes from a trusted source. But several Hayward families said they had no idea what they were drinking.

They may live right off Interstate 880 in Hayward. But these households are living off the grid.

The water should be cool and refreshing. “It smells like mildew,” said Katrina Rodriguez.

“Sometimes the water will smell like sulfur,” said neighbor Patt Rose.

They’re talking about the tap water and what these neighbors describe as a foul funk flowing to six homes on Harvey Avenue in Hayward.

“It would be brown before it turned clear,” said Rodriguez.

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

Rose noticed the problem shortly after moving in. “One of my dogs got sick,” she said.

Then it was the appliances. Rose told CBS 5 she had to replace three washing machines and several shower heads.

The exact same problem was playing out right next door. “We are like on our third washer,” Rodriguez said. “Showerheads are also failing. I mean breaking at the neck.”

For Rodriguez, the final straw was a bath she ran for her 2-year-old twins. “It was yellow. It had an overwhelming smell of Clorox,” she described.

Rodriguez even saved a bottle of the water. When our reporter took a whiff of it, it really reeked. Rodriguez said her family has been getting sick a lot as well.

She complained to the landlord, but that went nowhere. “All he would say is the water is good. It’s good to drink. It’s good to bathe in,” said Rodgriguez.

So the desperate mom turned to the East Bay Municipal Utility District and the City of Hayward. But Rodriguez said, “They told me they couldn’t do anything for me.”

The reason: the tap water in these homes isn’t coming from the city. It’s coming from right behind Rose’s house.

“When I went back there and saw what I saw, I just couldn’t believe it,” said Rodriguez.

Inside a shack, there was a well. Also in the shack, on a makeshift shelf, a row of empty bleach bottles. “They put like of a cup of it every month or something,” Rose told CBS 5. The Clorox was apparently poured straight into the well.

It was something the neighbors said they were never told about when they signed their leases. “We thought we were getting city water. I mean everybody who moves into a residential neighborhood thinks they are getting city water,” Rodriguez said.

The four other families living on the property also complained of smelly water. But none would voice their complaints on camera, fearing retaliation from the landlord. “There will be retaliation,” Rose told CBS 5. “I know so. He’ll probably sue us.”

It turns out their landlord has a reputation for litigating.  At the Alameda County courthouse, CBS 5 found their landlord Richard Thomas’ name on more than 200 lawsuits. Tenants sued Thomas for trashy living conditions and un-returned cleaning deposits and Thomas countersued tenants for almost everything under the sun.

Since these renters were getting nowhere, they asked CBS 5 to help. Using a sterilized kit from a professional lab we took samples from tap water in both homes. The water in the Rodriguez home came back positive for coliform bacteria.

“Fortunately you brought it to our attention,” said Ron Torres, supervising health specialist for Alameda County Environmental Health.

After CBS 5 took the test results to the agency, Torres went out to do more tests. “It’s contaminated,” said Torres.

As for those bottles of Clorox, Torres said the risks included skin, mucous membrane and eye irritation.

Torres said it’s up to the owner to make sure the well water’s healthy and the county is supposed to police that, but he admitted it’s been a low priority.  Torres also acknowledged there is no involvement from the city or state and no remediation by the county.

CBS 5 paid an unannounced visit to the owner, Richard Thomas, because he refused to answer any of our calls. Thomas claimed he had evidence the well was recently tested and asked that we wait. So we waited. When Thomas returned he was empty-handed, and asked us to leave.

While he shut the door on CBS 5, it’s his renters who can’t shut off the tainted water.

“People should be warned. People move in here with children,” said Rose. “I feel this man is poisoning my family,” said Rodriguez.

The county told CBS 5 they can’t force Thomas to hook up to the grid, even though a water main runs right outside the property.

But Jennifer Clary, a water policy analyst for the national nonprofit Clean Water Action, said with five connections or more, a well like the one on Harvey Avenue is considered to be a public water system. The county does have the power to shut it down if it’s contaminated and if the landlord refuses to mitigate.

For help on any water issues the public can contact Clean Water Action at www.cleanwateraction.org/ca

(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Comments (20)
  1. Eric W Kritz says:

    This was a somewhat incomplete – and therefore misleading- report with editing to make it more sensational-sounding than it probably deserved. If you had queried several water-treatment personnel, such as licensed well contracors, or licensed sewer-treatement operators, you might have heard that almost every well has some small level of e.coli present. The treatment is to shock-treat the well by pouring sodium hyperclorite – bleach – aka “Clorox” – into the well, and this is apparently what the subject landlord had been doing. Instead, you made it sound like he was poisoning his tenants. You should also have checked to see if he erred by not doing the second part of shock treatment: after the bleach has been poured into the well, every tap served by that well must be opened, and the water left to run, bleach and all, to disinfect the entire line from well to tap. Perhaps he did not do this? We cannot tell from your report. As to sand and grit, yes, this is often pumped up especially when the water table runs low. Another disingenuos bit of reporting was to refer to the structure over the well as a “shack”. What do you expect – the Taj Mahal? A structure over a well – which appeared to be locked – protects the well from vandalism: need it look like a Belvedere mansion? I think not, but it skewed the bias of the report where no such bias was necessary. Local wells very often pump up iron and sulphur which discolor the water or lend an unpleasant but not unhealthy taste and odor. Some of this can be mitigated with filters and treatment but…that costs money. If the landlord failed to do required testing and mitigation, it is right to bring it to the local authorities’ attention. But it’s such a common occurence in the Bay area, one can only conclude…..Tuesday was a slow-news day and you were hard up to fill up the time.

    1. Misty says:

      If ppl are getting sick, the coli can determine by simple 48 hour gram smear.. I worked for a milk plant for 20 yrs. One of the test I did was for coli in the milk. If ANY was found, the farm was shut off from being picked up and put on probation. We then had to determine how the coli entered the system. Plz do not tell me that it is normal in a water source for drinking. It is not. Fecal material is the usual the culprit and it seems to be leaching into the this landlord’s system.

      The owner was using clorox and coli was STILL found in the sample. That should tell you that not sufficient care taken to ensure safety. Children die, elderly die from coli contamination.

    2. W says:

      Also note that the snippit from the ‘lab results’ showed it stating “Positive CONTROL (E.coli)” that came up present. Of course it came up present, it was the positive control.

    3. Ti"Isha says:

      Who cares….This guy owns several properties and he can’t pay for water from EBMUD or let the people pay for their own water. He is nasty

    4. bob ski says:

      spoken like a true slumlord.

    5. TRINA says:

      I undetsatnd what you are saying but the landlord failed to do required testing and mitigation, Jerkoff. I was 6 mos. pregnate with twins and this man knew of such bad water. >MALICE

  2. Jose says:

    mexicans dig wells all the time to save a dollar. I do this in my back yard to water my lawn and garden. I save maybe 200 a month from well water but only use not for drinking or shower.

  3. JaneQPublic says:

    Sounds like the landlord has failed to disclose a material condition. Tenants need toJOIN FORCES & SUE THIS LANDLORD for whatever damages they have sustained as a consequence of drinking, bathing, etc. with the CONTAMINATED water. He’s lucky no one has died – yet.

  4. pat says:

    or the tenants can just move….

  5. bobbee says:

    If I was one of the tenant I would go get a good lawyer to file a lawsuit and make sure get all you can.

  6. r says:

    all u hillbillies might be used to this type of living.. i feel bad for the tenants of this slumlord… the court should order him to live in those conditions at the property.. STUPID WHITE PEOPLE ALWAYS TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE UNDER PRIVLEDGED….

    1. Bill Carpenter says:

      You sound like a racist, dude.

  7. silvermist_fairy says:

    I know a person who brought his water to school and it turned brow and very nasty to even look at! In San Jose!!

  8. com says:

    This is a very relevant article