Owner of troubled San Jose apartments is a lawsuit magnet
After a ruptured pipe led to the capping of all running water in Foxdale Vilage, workers called out to remedy the problem put wooden boards over the pipe in the ground. Photo by Vicente Vera.

    After residents at Foxdale Village Apartments complained about their water being shut off without notice, KDF Communities offered tenants a three-day rent credit and reimbursement for hotels.

    This might be too little, too late. If history is any indicator, KDF and its property manager, VPM Management, may soon have lawsuits on its hands.

    KDF Communities, which owns nine low-income apartment complexes in San Jose and more across the state, has been sued in recent years for allegedly failing to protect residents from fires and cockroaches. VPM is sometimes tagged in lawsuits, too.

    KDF initially responded to a request for comment, but did not provide a statement or answer questions in time for publication. VPM did not respond to a request for comment.

    On July 19, the Santa Clara County Superior Court ordered KDF to pay a tenant $3,000 for damages she suffered while living in a cockroach-infested apartment.

    According to the complaint, tenant Jennifer Garcia asked KDF for a different unit at the apartment complex after discovering the bugs in her home. She said the rental unit required “major extermination procedures,” which would probably require fumigating adjacent apartment units.

    Maria Reyes, a community advocate with the Cassell Neighborhood Association, said roaches, mice and fleas are common problems in KDF’s apartments. She said she’s tried repeatedly to work with the city and KDF to improve the complex.

    “None of the things we’re asking for, none of that materialized,” Reyes told San José Spotlight.

    But pests aren’t the only problems at apartment complexes owned by KDF or managed by VPM.

    Last year, a family filed a wrongful death suit against KDF for a fire that broke out in January 2019 in the Foxdale Village Apartments that killed tenant Arnita Ponce. An individual living in the apartment denied using candles or space heaters or smoking in the home, according to an incident report by the San Jose Fire Department.

    A fire burned through this building at Foxdale Village Apartments in January 2019, resulting in the death of tenant Arnita Ponce. File photo.

    Ponce’s family voluntarily dismissed the case earlier this year, but it’s unclear whether there was a settlement. The family’s attorney, Eric Norland, did not respond to requests for comment.

    Ponce’s cousin, Dee Barragan, told San José Spotlight that Ponce moved into the apartment as a subletter after being homeless. Barragan shared a video posted on the San Jose Fire Fighters’ Facebook page that shows the fire consuming the apartment. A voice can be heard that appears to be calling out from the unit.

    “A life was lost, and now quality of life challenges arise from the repercussions of neglectful management decisions or lack of action,” Barragan said. “This is shameful and sad, and people deserve to be safe especially in their homes.”

    A laundry machine vendor sued KDF earlier this year over an alleged breach of contract. The vendor claims KDF sought to terminate its lease in the Casa Real apartment complex after a fire occurred in a laundry room in September 2020. That suit is still pending, according to court records.

    In 2019, VPM resolved a lawsuit brought by a tenant of the Charter Court apartment complex who claimed the property owner and manager failed to investigate and repair a water leak in her ceiling. The plaintiff said she was exposed to toxic mold and suffered ill effects.

    Last year, a tenant at Valley Palms asked to dismiss a lawsuit she filed in 2017 against KDF and VPM that alleged the apartment’s self-closing pedestrian gate knocked her to the ground while walking with her baby grandson, injuring both of them. She alleged that the gate had recently been inspected and that the property managers failed to maintain it.

    In 2017, a tenant of the Almaden 1930 Apartments sued VPM for negligence after a neighbor shot him in the legs. The plaintiff allegedly complained to the property manager about his neighbor’s violent behavior, but the manager failed to do anything, according to the complaint. The case settled last year.

    KDF and VPM face lawsuits and fines outside of San Jose as well. In 2018, a San Francisco tenant sued both entities claiming the property manager sexually assaulted her when she went into his office to discuss her housing application. The case was dismissed last year, according to court records.

    In San Mateo County, Redwood City fined KDF $35,000  after it left the Hallmark House apartment complex abandoned following a fire in 2013. The company faced dozens of lawsuits from tenants displaced by the fire.

    Lawsuits don’t reflect every complaint residents have about KDF’s apartments complexes.

    Kashana Ashford, a tenant at Foxdale Village Apartments, spoke out about mold that required a significant renovation of her unit. But Ashford says a neighboring family also dealing with mold is too afraid of management to raise complaints.

    Ashford said she asked VPM to create an electronic system for tenants to submit work order requests, which hasn’t happened. She now recommends tenants email all of their complaints and requests to management to preserve a paper trail.

    Ashford urged elected officials to care about the apartment complexes year-round—not just during election season.

    “I need them to care about the East Side all of the time—not just when it’s convenient,” Ashford told San José Spotlight.

    Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

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