Garage apartments becomes latest code enforcement target


Another routine code-enforcement hearing has ended up speaking volumes about housing challenges in Fresno.


The key message this time: Market forces impact housing supply in predictable ways.

Independent Administrative Hearing Officer Michael Flores heard a landlord appeal on Thursday, Aug. 4, at City Hall. The property in question is at 3249 E. Normal Avenue, not far from the intersection of First Street and McKinley Avenue in Central Fresno.

We’re talking the Mayfair District.

A small cluster of rental units occupies the site. From the sidewalk there appears to be four detached apartments.

According to Flores’ six-page decision, the city’s Code Enforcement Division on March 28 received a complaint about the property. An inspection the next day found four violations:

  • Damaged and/or missing doors on the garage units in the back of the property.
  • An illegal conversion of one of the garage units into a living space and/or storage space without first obtaining permits and inspections.
  • Failure to obtain a fire report to determine the damage attributable to a recent fire at the property.
  • The presence of garbage and rubbish on the property and along the alley in back.

The city told Jesse Adkins, the property owner, to fix things. But things didn’t get fixed, and the city issued a citation on April 29. Adkins appealed.

Adkins at the hearing didn’t dispute the city’s allegations.

According to Flores’ decision, Adkins said “he had a continuing problem with unknown persons dumping junk and rubbish in the adjacent alleyway, especially when the City conducts its annual junk collection.”

Transients keep breaking into the garage units and sometimes set fires, Adkins said.

Adkins said tenants on his property and nearby properties “are also contributing to the problems by running extension cords to the garage areas without permission, collecting junk and rubbish in the common areas, and allowing others to use the premises without his permission.”

Adkins said he periodically hauls away truckloads of trash, only to have transients and problem tenants quickly fill the void with more rubbish. He said he’s trying to evict the problem tenants. He said he’s trying to repair the roof damaged by fire.

A code inspector testified that she would take Adkins after the hearing to the Planning Department and help him get started on the necessary permits.

Flores in his decision said the city proved its case. Adkins was fined a total of $800. A progress hearing was scheduled for Sept. 15. If Adkins hasn’t made big strides in fixing all the problems, that $800 in fines could be doubled to $1,600 and the matter could be moved to Superior Court.

Ho-hum, right? Well, let’s take a closer look at what’s happening.

I took a walk to 3249 E. Normal on Sunday afternoon. This part of Fresno brings back a lot of fond memories. My wife during our courting days lived in a duplex on Weldon Avenue, about 100 yards from Adkins’ property. Mary and I were married in a garden ceremony in the backyard of her duplex.

That was 1982. Even then the neighborhood had its rough edges. The neighborhood looks especially rough these days. It seems most of the neighborhood’s carports in alleys are protected by chain-link fencing. That wasn’t the case some 35 years ago.

The tenant parking area in the rear of 3249 E. Normal has (by my count) four individual garage units. There’s no chain-link security fencing. Each unit is covered by plywood (or something like it), top to bottom.

“By failing to provide proper doors on the garages,” Flores wrote, Adkins “has created an unsafe and potentially dangerous structure. There is a possibility of someone being trapped inside the garage with no reasonable means of escape.”

Recall, if you will, the deaths of five squatters last December in a fire at a vacant house at 1441 N. Archie Avenue, a mile to the east of the 3249 E. Normal property.

Flores has good reason for concern.

One of the garage areas owned by Adkins “is being used by someone, either a transient or an illegal sub-tenant of one of the tenants of the Appellant, as a living space,” Flores wrote. “No permit for such an occupation was obtained. Further, there was testimony from Inspector (Randi) Manouel that another garage area was being used as a non-permitted bicycle repair business. Again, no permit for the conversion of the garage to this use was pulled. While it is not clear that Appellant was directly related to these activities, as the property owner he is nonetheless responsible.”

My walk on Sunday took me past the front of 3249 E. Normal. The common area between the apartments could use some tender loving care.

I went to the alley behind the apartments. A man was painting a door to one of the plywood-covered garage units. A door cut into the plywood-covered garage unit next to the painter was ajar. As I got close, someone inside this unit grabbed the door and shut it firmly. I got just a glimpse of the inside. The space appeared to be full of clutter.

A bicycle lay outside this door.

My original intent was to take a photo of the exteriors of the garage units. These events made me change my mind. I hurried to the end of the alley and headed home.

My wife and I after our honeymoon moved into a two-bedroom apartment on First Street, a bit south of Radio Park. We were a five-minute walk from 3249 E. Normal. We lived there for about a year. We were well aware of the comings and goings in the carport area of our small apartment complex.

Let’s repeat what Flores said in his decision: We don’t know who, if anyone, allowed that person to live in the plywood-covered garage unit at 3249 E. Normal. But this code-enforcement case has established that someone was (is?) living there.

How many other non-residential structures in Fresno are being used (rented?) as residences? I’m guessing the number is quite large. These unregulated living quarters are part of Fresno’s underground economy. No amount of work by the Code Enforcement Task Force and City Hall will put an appreciable dent in this slice of our economy if legitimate rental housing is over-regulated.

Half the people want a bargain. The other half is happy to offer one.

Life at 3249 E. Normal appears to confirm this.

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