City of Richmond yellow tags storage shed, family will now stay in shelter

Rolling suitcases, stacked plastic storage bins, and an Ikea bag stuffed with clothes sat on the floor of a storage shed waiting to be hauled away. A mattress and pad leaned in a corner, propped against the wall opposite the door, its pink and white sheet still on.

A fan, a table lamp, and neatly-packed bags filled with the items of everyday living lined floor all along the walls. At about 100-square feet, the space felt cramped and a bit claustrophobic, even with just two people standing inside. 

But this wasn’t a storage shed simply filled with forgotten belongings of some Bay Area family. It was the room that Susana Chavez and her two young children called home in Richmond until just days ago. Chavez, an immigrant new to the Bay Area, rented one of three such sheds erected behind a house on 5th Street for $725 a month starting in April. 

There was electricity and plumbing, but reportedly no insulation and no air conditioning. During the summer heat wave, she says temperatures inside reached 117 degrees.

Chavez says the landlord would provide a space heater when temperatures dipped too low. A small window too small for an adult to squeeze through provided the only alternative escape if there was a fire. Chavez said the shed was far from ideal, even dangerous, but she lived there with her two children – ages five and seven -- because she couldn’t find any other place to live on her budget. 

"For now im going to leave to a shelter with my children," said Chavez. 

Last month, city inspectors agreed the sheds were too dangerous for people to live in. The inspector issued a notice to vacate because the shed was built without any permits. Officials yellow-tagged the sheds and warned the property owner Rodolfo Munoz, and his son Reyes who manages the rentals, that they would have until September 1st to vacate the tenants.

"There is no secondary fire exit and no workable windows so the temperatures are getting very hot and very cold. There is no insulation and there's no carbon monoxide detectors. Very unsafe," said Joseph Tobener, Tenant Rights Attorney. 

A tenants’ rights attorney in San Francisco has taken up her case and is suing the landlord. 

"We build the unit with no permits we are not hiding that," said landlord, Reyes Munoz.  

Three sheds originally stood on the property, behind a blue house that is also occupied by renters. But by this week, two sheds had been demolished and caution tape encircled piles of wood, trash, and rubble. Workers were loading up a truck with debris on Sunday afternoon when KTVU visited Chavez as she slowly moved her belongings into her SUV.

According to Richmond's Rental Program, Munoz had previously rented the sheds until the city yellow-tagged them for the first time in 2018. Despite being told to clear out the units last year, the landlord found new tenants and continued collecting rent.

Reyes Munoz said he knew the units were not permitted or allowed by the city but that he was taking “the easy way out.” 

"We tried to help them, give them a place to live temporarily," said Munoz. 

The city granted the landlords an extension until September 15 to vacate the shed, but Chavez said she was just ready to get out.
Munoz gave Chavez her $725 deposit back on Tuesday but that won't take her far.

She and her kids will be staying in a shelter for now. Now her attorney is fighting to get her more than $10,000 in relocation payments he says she is owed, so she can find her family a new home. 
"It's extremely sad to see them having to move into homelessness without any kind of resources. The landlord is required to pay moving costs in this instance and the city can step in and make the landlord pay those moving costs," said Tobener. 
According to the city of Richmond Rent Program, it could take up to 90 days before Chavez learns whether or not she will even recieve any of that money. The landlord has the right to appeal her claim.