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HOUSE FOR RENT: $1,900/month. Three bedrooms, one bath and only one mile from Cal Poly. For the low price of $633 per housemate, you get rats, termites and mold.

Any takers?

As a student at Cal Poly with a double major, an internship and an off-campus job, I have little time to devote to matters not directly pertaining to my current obligations, and even more so, those which I have little interest in. At least that is what my previous management company, McNamara Realty, is banking on.

I started renting from McNamara Realty last summer with my roommates, Annie Schiowitz and Jordan DeVault. We entered a 12-month lease agreement beginning July 2009. There were immediate problems with our rental at 31 South Tassajara.

We cited two major issues of concern upon moving in: the shower pan appeared to be leaking, causing a subsequent rancid odor, and there was suspected mold growing in my bedroom closet which backed up to the shower. Multiple times we spoke with McNamara office employees on the phone to request service, and in late July, a McNamara maintenance employee came and inspected the property, leaving a note taped to my door ensuring there was not mold growing in my closet, but “caked-on crap from old paint.”

In December 2009, the putrid stench from the shower was nearly unbearable. When cleaning the shower in mid-December, Schiowitz discovered the caulking around the entire perimeter of the pan was loose, and water was leaking into the crevices and wall. McNamara’s maintenance crew told us to bleach the shower on December 20 and then allow it to dry out for a few days, and then allow the maintenance company to come in and re-caulk it, and then to abstain from using it for three days. During this week, alternative shower accommodations were never established, and we were never compensated for the inconvenience.

When Schiowitz showered in the re-caulked shower in late December 2009, the caulking instantly fell through and water again seeped through the cracks and into the walls. We alerted McNamara again. Their response? To re-caulk the shower (because it worked so well the first time). Initially we were promised that in March 2010, our shower would be redone. But, McNamara fell back on their word and never touched the shower again — not to fix the shower pan and never to address the growing mold problem.

In the meantime, another problem plagued our house. We learned that not only did we have a tremendous mold problem, but we had rats as well. McNamara was unconcerned about this too, and it was only after getting our parents involved more than a week after the discovery did the problem garner any attention. After setting traps, we caught five rats in seven days. During this time, McNamara did not think to address the real problem: point of entry for the rats.

At the same time, only after being persistent with another request, the cutting back of overgrown trees in the backyard, were these trees cut back. But even more backwards was that the maintenance crew left the debris littered on the ground for weeks afterwards, a sure nesting place for the rats. Additionally, around this time, our front porch beams had to be replaced due to the risk posed by extreme termite damage.

Completely exhausted with the situation, Schiowitz and I submitted a letter to McNamara Realty in March 2010, demanding action be taken to alleviate the mold in the house. McNamara was given three weeks to respond to the uninhabitable living conditions of our house. McNamara left a message on my voice mail three weeks later saying that they “had not forgotten about me” and would get to my complaint soon. After repeated phone calls, McNamara responded to our mandate: they would terminate our lease as soon as we “secured alternative housing.”

On April 23, my roommates and I signed a lease for a new house, effective that same day. As requested by the written decree received from McNamara days earlier, Schiowitz and I delivered a written response to McNamara’s office on April 23, declaring that we would terminate our lease effective April 26, 2010, and that we expected prorated rent for April 26-30, in addition to our security deposits. These were to be returned to us no later than May 17, 2010.

On April 26, Schiowitz and I went to the McNamara office to sign a lease addendum releasing us from financial obligations, only to find that McNamara had again tried to dupe us; the date listed on the addendum as our lease termination date was April 30, not April 26, as previously agreed upon. We did not sign the addendum, and McNamara has since refused to revise it.

I have a few options: I can let McNamara off the hook, inevitably allowing them to take advantage of more college tenants, or I can hold McNamara accountable, making an example of my situation. I have chosen the latter.

I have all of the evidence I need to move forward with legal proceedings, including photos, a mold sample and written correspondence. More importantly, however, I have the motivation to get it done.

Cal Poly has a lawyer who works with students — I have a meeting with this lawyer on Friday, April 30. San Luis Obispo has a small claims court — I plan on filing a claim within the next few weeks. There is a court library downtown — I will be researching my rights.

I am tired of being treated like a stupid college student, and I am tired of being taken advantage of. If no one holds McNamara Realty accountable for their actions, innocent tenants will continue to suffer. At this point, I have no other choice — I do not want anyone else to go through the hell I did this year.

If anyone has had a similar experience with these opportunists at McNamara, I would like to hear from you, too — e-mail me at Together we can make a difference!

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  1. I would just like to say that it is so promising to see a student stand up for her rights. So many times have I experienced a similiar situation throughout my college living situations and have let the landlord take advantage of me. I am so glad someone is finally standing up for their rights and making it known we are NOT dumb college students. I see a great success in this lady’s future!

  2. Though disturbing, this was a wonderful piece. I am also a tenant with McNamara, and I have also at times found myself abused or ignored by them. Though I haven’t faced any issues like the problems you have chronicled here, I’ve also had difficulties with McNamara and I think it’s great that you are standing up for yourself. Just like so many others I’m sure, I have allowed my expectations to stay low while my rent has stayed high and that’s how McNamara makes their money. I plan on sending you the details of the issues I have faced and I wish you nothing but luck in your suit against them. Hopefully they make you rich, or at least pay for the time, frustration, and risk of sickness they have given you!

  3. If you want info on landlords who take advantage of college students, the Mustang Daily should do a piece of Beatrice Jeong. She’s the wondeful old woman who owns the Sagrado Corazón townhomes on 60 Casa street, in addition to many other properties around SLO.

    Seriously, send a reporter down there and knock on some doors. I guarantee you enough salacious material to fill many a column.

  4. That is an amazingly sad story! I’m so glad you stood up for yourself. I don’t usually like resorting to suing someone, but in cases like this, it’s necessary to keep someone accountable. Thank you for standing up for yourself and your fellow students.

  5. I recommend caution when considering renting/leasing anything from McNamara Realty. Of a $4000 security deposit on a 12 month lease, McNamara Realty returned only $328, justified by inflated labor costs, and costs to remedy preexisting conditions! There were also issues with sub-standard plumbing, a dirty chimney (resulting in a chimney fire)and non-usable heaters. They have proven most difficult to deal with, and determined to keep as much of your money as they can. If I can offer one bit of advice to you all, it is to take advantage of your right to a pre-inspection of the property BEFORE YOU MOVE OUT. Document everything and take photos if necessary. You would be absolutely amazed at what McNamara can come up with as justification for withholding your security deposit. How about a charge of 225.00 for picking up cigarette butts?!!! My recommendation….. use another realtor.

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