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Have a housing issue? Call Project Sentinel
Non-profit offers free tenant/landlord mediation, discrimination assistance
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One woman has been having ongoing issues with mold in the "expensive" townhouse she rents in Turlock and her landlord isn't fixing the problem she said, but rather spreading it throughout her home. Another man is having trouble getting back the $400 deposit he paid when he moved into an apartment 16 years ago, because the original landlord passed away and his next of kin doesn't want to pay it. Both of these landlord/tenant issues and more were brought up during a Housing Rights and Responsibility Forum hosted by Project Sentinel on Wednesday at Turlock City Hall.

Project Sentinel is a non-profit agency that helps resolve housing issues, including discrimination, mortgage foreclosure and tenant/landlord disagreements.

"You have rights on both sides of the fence," said Senior Case Manager Mark Galvan during Wednesday's forum, which focused on tenants. Another forum, focusing on landlords is set for 5 p.m. April 27 at City Hall.

Galvan went over some basic tenant rights and advised those in attendance to be aware of warning signs when looking to rent a house or apartment.

He said that tenants are entitled to a copy of the lease with all terms negotiated in writing, including deposits and shared utility agreements.

"Lately we've seen a lot of people who want to deal in cash or have a verbal agreement only — not good," said Galvan.

Many of those at Wednesday's forum were having problems with their current landlord.

"Most of the calls we receive are predominantly repair issues — mold, bedbugs, roaches and even rat infestations, faulty wiring. The tenants tell the landlord and they don't want to do anything about it," said Project Sentinel Fair Housing Coordinator Zoha Khalili.

Project Sentinel offers free mediation services for tenants and landlords.

"Our goal is to keep you out of court," said Galvan.

Project Sentinel also helps residents who are disabled and need assistance in requesting accommodations from their landlord, such as allowing service animals in the home or more time to find alternative housing when being evicted.

During the forum, Khalili went over fair housing laws including protected categories in state and federal anti-discrimination statutes and how those with a disability can request reasonable accommodations from their housing provider.

"The law is constantly changing," said Khalili.

She said it's important for landlords to stay updated on new laws, like ones regarding domestic violence and criminal conviction screenings, and to be knowledgeable about laws pertaining to evictions.

"We want to make sure that housing providers are complying with the law when they want somebody out of their unit.

For more information about Project Sentinel, call (209) 236-1577 ext. 8112. Project Sentinel's Modesto office serves all of Stanislaus County and Merced. The organization also has offices in Sacramento and in the Bay Area.