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By Mike Hazlip–
Mom’s Wholesale Florist on Auburn Boulevard was forced to close Thursday after Code Enforcement Officers placed red tag notices outside the building, declaring it uninhabitable and unfit to occupy. The closure comes amid a longstanding dispute between the landlord and tenant.
Dan DeVries, the landlord, says the saga began a year ago when his tenant stopped paying rent. Then the courts shut down when Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a moratorium on evictions to protect tenants hurt by COVID-19 economic shutdowns.
DeVries said he was left with few options to solve the dispute and eventually resorted to holding picket signs outside the shop nearly every day for weeks.
“How about landlord relief?” one sign read. “Mom’s owes us $17,500 and will not pay!”
DeVries told The Sentinel that his tenant, Christina Azevedo, stopped paying rent last October. He claims she was also living in the commercial space without authorization.
The Sentinel attempted to contact Azevedo in person at the flower shop multiple times over several weeks. Repeated phone calls to the florist were unanswered and The Sentinel was unable to leave a voicemail message.
Messages sent to her four Facebook accounts also went unanswered. The manager at Mom’s Wholesale Florist, Danielle Schmidt, told The Sentinel last month that the shop would issue a formal statement regarding the dispute. As of Oct. 10, The Sentinel had not received any messages from Azevedo or the shop.
Mom’s Wholesale Florist is located on property DeVries said he owns. Behind the florist, DeVries operates a heating and air company in a warehouse space he shares with a business partner, Jay Rubash, who runs an auto repair shop.
In an email last month, Citrus Heights Police Lt. Michael Wells said officers had responded to the location regarding an ongoing dispute between the landlord and tenant.
“The civil eviction process was explained to the parties involved and no enforcement action was requested or taken,” Wells said.
In an update this month, Wells said officers responded to the location on three separate occasions earlier this year. Two in September and one in May. All of the calls were determined to be civil issues and no reports were taken.
After first attempting to file an eviction for Azevedo on his own, DeVries said he hired an attorney, and the case was finally heard Tuesday, October 6. The Judicial Council of California voted to end its temporary moratorium on evictions, effective September 1.
DeVries said Azevedo’s lawyer argued she had permission to use the premises as a residence in Tuesday’s hearing. He said the judge determined the premises to be a commercial property, opening the door for authorities to evict Azevedo. The tenant has five business days to dispute the ruling.
In an email to The Sentinel on Oct. 8, Lieut. Wells said the building was deemed uninhabitable and “unfit to occupy” by the city’s Code Enforcement Officers.
“As a result of a recent on-site inspection with Code Enforcement, Citrus Heights Building Officials, and Sac Metro Fire inspectors, it was determined the commercial business cannot be utilized for human occupancy and/or business operations,” Wells said. He also noted that the tenant was told she could no longer operate the floral business, effective Thursday.
A banner hangs outside announcing the property is available for rent in “Fall 2020.”
Evictions in California were halted March 18 by order of Governor Gavin Newsom due to the COVID-19 Shutdown. Recent legislation however, allows evictions to resume for problem tenants. Newsom signed AB 3088, the COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act on August 31.
Tenants claiming a loss of income because of COVID-19 shut down orders must provide documentation to the landlord, according to the legislation. DeVries said he has not received any documents from Azevedo. He said Azevedo stopped paying the full rent last year, before the COVID-19 shutdown orders.
He said he tried to work with Azevedo in April, and offered to forgive her debt if she vacated the premises by May 1, 2020. DeVries claims she promised to pay, but he has not received any payments.
“She’s milking this coronavirus as an excuse for us not to kick her out,” DeVries told The Sentinel last month. Meanwhile, he has still had to pay property taxes, which are around $3,300 per year for the property, according to records from the Sacramento County Assessor’s office.
DeVries said the building had a kitchen and living space when he first purchased it, but he was unsure of the zoning. County records list the land use code as “retail/commercial, small retail.” Records show the 2,721-square-foot, single-story structure was originally built in 1954.
The landlord said he found piles of debris inside and padlocks on the bedroom doors, during an inspection in March or April.
The battle between tenant protections and landlord rights has been raging since the governor’s moratorium on evictions took effect at the beginning of the COVID-19 shutdown. The California Apartment Association has been working to protect landlords who find themselves with no options to evict problem tenants.
“The COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act of 2020 is expected to include protections for tenants who cannot pay their full rent due to the lost income attributable to the pandemic,” the association said in an Aug. 27 press release. “It also would ensure that landlords can evict tenants who wreak havoc at their rental communities.”
A study by the Aspen Institute released in August, estimates between 30-40 million people nationally could face eviction over the next few months as deferred rent becomes due and tenants find themselves facing insurmountable debt.
Additionally, the California Apartment Association fears landlords will also be impacted by months of lost revenue, predicting that “housing providers will go out of business.”
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