Complaints are emerging at a San Jose affordable housing complex—and housing lawyers are taking notice.
Attorneys with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley said several clients face eviction from Renascent Place, a housing site for chronically homeless and disabled people. The law group has heard complaints about property management firm John Stewart Company deactivating room keycards, maintenance workers entering residences without permission and cars being towed at an alarming rate.
Attorney Nassim Moallem, who visited the site last month with three other attorneys, said Renascent Place employees monitored her interactions with tenants.
“When we were there, management definitely took photos of us and appeared to be taking down the names of tenants who spoke with us,” Moallem told San José Spotlight. “A lot of tenants definitely have valid fears of experiencing retaliation in speaking up about their concerns.”
Attorney Tessa Baizer told San José Spotlight that days after the visit, management locked out one resident who spoke with the attorneys. According to Baizer, the tenant, Jessika Thomas, was already fighting against an eviction.
Warren Reed, vice president at John Stewart Company, disputes these claims. He told San José Spotlight no employees other than security personnel worked at Renascent Place on the weekend the lawyers visited. He said no employees photographed the lawyers, noting there are security cameras on site.
“That report is frankly very surprising to hear,” Reed said. “I don’t envision any of our staff doing that or frankly wanting to do that.”
He did not know how many people have been evicted from Renascent Place in the past year. He was aware of one resident who received a lease termination, but would not comment on it due to litigation.
Thomas, the tenant allegedly locked out of her room, moved into Renascent Place in 2020. She told José Jose Spotlight she is disabled and had been homeless for five years. She said the eviction has put her in a state of crisis.
“I believe this is completely unjustified and wrongful,” Thomas said. “That’s the hardest part to swallow.”
A history of problems
Renascent Place opened in early 2020 as a permanent supportive housing complex for people with disabilities who have experienced long-term homelessness. The four-story building at 2450 Senter Road in San Jose contains 160 studio apartments and various amenities, including a bicycle repair training facility, barbecue grills and case managers.
Charities Housing, which owns the property, did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for Abode Services, which provides some services, declined comment.
Complaints about Renascent Place started shortly after it opened. In 2021, residents said their apartments were contaminated with mildew. Some complained services such as internet and onsite job training were not provided. Charities Housing said at the time that services were modified due to COVID-19, but remained available for residents.
One resident previously told San José Spotlight she received a 10-day eviction notice after management learned her boyfriend was staying with her. The resident said she needed her boyfriend to help her move around because management failed to install handicap bars in her room.
A 2020 review by San José Spotlight found John Stewart Company issued 433 lease violations over 10 months against tenants at Second Street Studios, another supportive housing complex the firm manages. Homeless advocates said many of the violations were for breaking frivolous rules, such as hosting unauthorized guests.
Lock outs and towed cars
Moallem and three colleagues visited Renascent Place in February after hearing complaints from tenants about management deactivating their electronic keys without notice, locking them out of their rooms and requiring them to pay a reactivation fee.
Reed said it would be illegal for management to lock people out of their rooms. He noted key fobs are only deactivated if they’re lost or stolen and residents must pay $10 to $20 to replace them.
Tenants also complained maintenance workers entered their rooms without consent or giving them 24-hour notice. Some claim items have been taken from their rooms. Reed said management has received complaints about this, but video surveillance found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Tenants said management frequently tows cars from the visitor parking area and spots allotted for people with disabilities. Reed said all residents have parking spaces and management takes pains to only tow cars that are not supposed to be in the residential lot.
Moallem noted the purpose of public supportive housing is to assist people who have extreme chronic illnesses and disabilities.
“There is a real gap in providing the level of support needed for tenants to be able to feel comfortable,” Moallem said. “Instead, it’s much more punitive.”
Evicted and in crisis
Karen Kontz, supervising attorney for the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley’s housing unit, said management filed to evict Thomas for allegedly failing to let pest control come into her room. Kontz told San José Spotlight Thomas was working with management at the time to avoid this from happening.
“We thought we were going to be able to come to some sort of agreement, but then they locked her out,” Kontz said.
Reed said evictions for pest control issues are rare.
Thomas lost not only her apartment, but also the portable housing subsidy voucher residents at Renascent Place get after living there for two years. According to Kontz, Thomas was locked out four days before reaching the two-year mark.
“And it’s supportive housing—where do you go from there?” Kontz added.