San Jose tenants forced from condemned homes get some help
Uriel Camorlinga stands in front of the house he's rented for the past 10 years. City employees taped a red sticker on his house reading, "condemned" on July 15. Photo by Vicente Vera.

    After being kicked out of their homes by San Jose, a group of tenants is receiving relocation payments from their former landlord, as well as temporary housing from the county.

    The owners of a cluster of un-permitted mobile homes near Spina Farms in South San Jose paid $30,000 to two households made homeless on July 15 after San Jose code enforcement officers condemned their homes as unsafe.

    The Santa Clara County Office of Supportive Housing will provide hotel vouchers to two of the displaced families for the next 30 days, said Joanna Molina, a legal assistant at Skinner Law Group APC, which represents six of the tenants.

    The payments and housing assistance offer some relief for the residents forced from their homes after the city sat on their lawyer’s complaints about substandard living conditions for more than 40 days. But the payments are creating new problems for the tenants, all living in precarious situations since their surprise eviction.

    Molina said one payment went to a man who previously tried to evict his own sister-in-law’s family from his home. He has not given any of the relocation money to his sister-in-law’s family, who are staying in a motel and are represented by the Skinner firm.

    Uriel Camorlinga, another tenant represented by Skinner, received a $15,000 payment as the representative of a household that also included a family to whom he is not related. The family is staying at a hotel, and Camorlinga is trying to negotiate a living arrangement with his brother in Watsonville.

    Speaking through a Spanish translator, Camorlinga told San José Spotlight he’s willing to help the family financially, but since he’s homeless he needs to take care of his living situation first.

    It’s not immediately clear which property owner is making payments to the tenants. The address of the mobile homes is associated with a long list of LLCs and individuals who own stakes of the property. Camorlinga’s check, which he received Thursday, was signed by Thomas M. Foster. San José Spotlight was unable to reach Foster.

    Camorlinga said the property manager, who identified himself as Joe, asked him to sign an English-language document before handing over the check. Camorlinga, who doesn’t speak English, took a photo of the document and sent it to his attorney, Tom Skinner of Skinner Law Group, who confirmed it was just an agreement related to the relocation payment.

    But Camorlinga said Joe told him to sign a second document, also in English. Joe told him that the document was just a copy of the relocation payment agreement, but refused to let Camorlinga take a picture of it.

    “(I’m) almost sure Joe was lying about the second document,” Camorlinga said. But in need of money, he signed it anyway.

    Joe refused to speak with San José Spotlight.

    Skinner filed a lawsuit against the property owners on July 21 for claims related to the substandard conditions of the mobile homes. He said the goal is to obtain damages that will allow his clients to financially support themselves as they relocate. In the meantime, he is trying to obtain more vouchers from the county for the remaining displaced tenants.

    “We’re certainly going to put some pressure on them to extend it even further after a month,” Skinner told San José Spotlight. “Then I think they’re going to have an expectation that our clients find housing.”

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

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