Tenants have nowhere to turn | November 9, 2007 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |


Mountain View Voice

Opinion - November 9, 2007

Tenants have nowhere to turn

We hope the ordeal suffered by a dozen or more residents whose apartments at the Americana complex were contaminated by asbestos will stir local lawmakers to protect tenants should similar problems come up in the future.

What happened in this case shouldn't happen to anyone, but if it does, state, county or city officials must be empowered to step in and oversee the cleanup and compensation to the tenants.

At the Americana — which is managed by Prometheus, a company that oversees about 10,000 apartment units in the area — the nightmare began when workers embarked on an early-October roof-replacement project in the complex at 707 Continental Circle. Company officials say the roofing contractor did not know asbestos was present in the apartments, although tenants say their leases actually acknowledged that the material was present.

Whether the contractor knew or not, there is no dispute that asbestos particles were dislodged during the roofing replacement and floated into many top-floor apartments. Then, when a tenant demanded that units be tested for asbestos, the contractor halted work on the project, leaving some renters' apartments and belongings exposed to the elements.

As luck would have it, a torrential rainstorm hit Mountain View that weekend, forcing many tenants to evacuate the building. Many have since moved out of the building permanently, but are fighting to be compensated for moving expenses. For others still intending to return, Prometheus found temporary quarters while the asbestos is cleared away and the roof replaced.

Many tenants are outraged at the way they have been treated by the company, but in searching for redress, have found that no state, county or city agency has jurisdiction over this type of asbestos incident. One resident told the Voice that she had called dozens of agencies that might be able to hold the apartment owners responsible for the damages, from the Governor's Office to the Environmental Protection Agency.

"Every single person told us to get a lawyer — we are in no one's jurisdiction," she said.

Even the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which is the most likely agency to deal with the problem, said there would likely be no consequences for the Americana's owners and apartment managers. Since the roofing workers were not trying to remove the asbestos, and accidentally shook it loose, the company would not be liable for damages, a spokeswoman said.

All of this points to a hole in the law as gaping as the Americana's roof. Unsuspecting tenants leased their apartments believing they had a right to be safe from toxic or dangerous substances. They also assumed their apartments would not be exposed to inclement weather. And if the people they pay rent to failed in this regard, there should be some form of reasonable compensation.

But it seems the renters were wrong to think they had these legal rights.

If ever a situation cried out for State Sen. Joe Simitian's "There Oughta Be a Law" contest, this is it. Prometheus apparently has encountered similar situations, in particular an asbestos problem at a Cupertino apartment complex in 2000.

If nothing else, this large management firm should do everything possible to resettle the tenants and pay them generous damage settlements. It is the only fair thing to do at this point.


Posted by never-to-reside- in Prometheus-managed apartment, a resident of another community
on Nov 9, 2007 at 12:40 pm

Would the persistent predatory behaviour of Prometheus that you describe here and in your previous articles be punishable under the federal and state RICO statutes?

Posted by Angela, a resident of another community
on Nov 14, 2007 at 2:21 pm

What a horrid company.
The MV Council should ban them from the city.

Posted by eric, a resident of another community
on Nov 15, 2007 at 2:17 pm

Why are you so certain that Prometheus is to blame? It sounds like their contractor did shoddy work, and perhaps THEY should be held accountable. Prometheus is a well-reputed company in the area. I would not be surprised (I dont know this for a fact, but it is not unrealistic) if the contractors were required by various government regs to halt work once asbestos was mentioned, thereby leaving the residents belongings exposed to the elements.

Many old buildings like the Americana have asbestos in the roofs. My understanding is that it is considered safe if not disturbed.

Im not suggesting that Prometheus is beyond any responsibility here, but I think that the editorial is unfair and too quick to place blame before all the facts are in. Someone screwed up, and the tenants who incurred expense should be made whole. The question is, by whom and to what degree?

Posted by DOTIAwardCommittee, a resident of Cuernavaca
on Nov 21, 2007 at 3:32 pm

Congratulations Eric, you have just been chosen as the recipient of the recently-instituted Jon Moss Award for the Defense of the Indefensible (Jon Moss DOTI Award).
The award consists of an ampoule containing 0.99 grams of asbestos that can be worn as an amulet around your neck. Do not worry if it breaks since amounts less than 1 gram are not regulated by Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

To read the epic work by Jon Moss, the masterpiece in this category:

Web Link

The award will be given in the future whenever a DOTI work of high caliber appears.

Nominees for the next awards include:

Mike Drouin - Prometheus Real Estate Group

Karen Schkolnick - Bay Area Air Quality Management District

Please post here any documents you might receive from them or any others you deem suitable for a Jon Moss DOTI Award.

To read about the “good repute” of Prometheus Real Estate Group

1) Views of Americana Apartments residents

Web Link

2) Previous excellent articles about them in the Mountain View Voice

3) Articles about them in the Cupertino Courier (these made Jon Moss famous)

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

Posted by DOTIAwardCommittee, a resident of Cuernavaca
on Nov 21, 2007 at 6:28 pm

Note: I hope no one takes the comment about the ampoule with asbestos seriously. It is, of course, only virtual. It does not exist. Asbestos is dangerous material even in small amounts and no one should even think of handling it. Sorry for the bad joke.

Posted by A tenant, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Nov 27, 2007 at 7:20 pm

One of the above comments states: "Why are you so certain that Prometheus is to blame?"

All I can say is that I wish you were there and see how Prometheus management initiated the work, was aware of the asbestos, had tenants sign an agreement not to disturb the asbestos, how they did it themselves, how they dismissed it as "janitorial dust", how they lied about it, and how they treated the tenants.

Whoever you are, I wish you a comfortable and asbestos laden ife in a Prometheous apartment!

Ah, I forgot, you are one of Prometheous goonies!

Posted by Prometheous Lover, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Nov 27, 2007 at 7:25 pm

We are rich with sleaziest lawyers in the business and can do anything we want? Why do you think we are calling the apartment complex "Americana"!