The following Op-Ed feature is by award-winning investigative journalist Burl Barer. Mr. Barer has been pro-active in the support of effective prevention and treatment of alcoholism and addiction since 1973 when he served on the Seattle Mayor’s Task Force on Drug Abuse Treatment and Prevention. Often outspoken and admittedly opinionated, the views expressed are his own and intended to foster further conversation and increased dedication to honesty and integrity in the Recovery Industry.
Back in my college days, I was a lodger with three meals a day in the home of Wilma Smith. It was wonderful. The food was home cooked family meals, and because there were Jews, Muslims, Hindus of different castes, and others, each meal offered your choice of beef, chicken or pork because Hindus don’t eat beef, Muslims and Jews (Orthodox) don’t eat pork, and chicken is always a useful alternative. We were lodgers. There is a difference between a lodger and a tenant very clearly under California law:
A “lodger” is a person who lives in a room in a house where the owner lives.
Yes, if you own a home, and you live in that home, and you decide to rent out a room or two or three, the folks who stay there are lodgers. In some states, lodgers have far fewer rights than tenants because they are in someone’s personal home. The landlord lives there – not just in some room down the hallway, but this place is the landlord’s real-life residence and they share their living space with you. Kitchen, living room etc. just as if you were family.
The owner can enter all areas occupied by the lodger and has overall control of the house. Under California law, however, most lodgers have the same rights as tenants. (Civil Code section 1940(a).)
You have reasonable expectations of security and privacy within the context of being a lodger. While the homeowner may enter your room without your permission, they can’t rummage through your private possessions or confiscate your personal belongings.
“Someone should tell that to Ron, the guy who claims that we’re his lodgers,” says Timothy “ I found him digging though my backpack.”
“That’s nothing,” says Lyle, a gregarious man in his fifties. “I missed several hours of work because Ron decided to turn my room upside down in the type of search only an inmate in prison would be subjected to. I wasn’t going to let him do it without me present.”
The Ron to whom they refer is the landlord who doesn’t live there and doesn’t share living space with his so-called lodgers. In fact, this same fellow owns numerous locations, some designated as “Assisted Living,” other termed “Sober Living” and one claiming medical detox and counseling for people in recovery. He makes a big deal of his tenant not being tenants, but lodgers. In the particular residence in question, 6360 Peach in Van Nuys, California. “lodgers” are primarily people on fixed income who have recently experienced surgery or other health issues. The affordability of not having to come up with first and last month’s rent in order to get a bed, a group TV room, and three meals a day sounds as if a good deal – but the pitch presented is not what you get.
One recent resident, well over sixty years of age, was recovering from a heart attack. He was assigned a room that didn’t yet have a bed. Eventually, the component parts arrived he was expected to put it together himself. When he objected, the men delivering it from one of Ron’s other locations, mocked him to shame and insulted him, and when he followed them into his room, he had a cup of coffee in his hand. They grabbed it from him, saying “that’s against the rules!” and took it away. What rule? You come here thinking it’s one thing, and they treat you as if you are a court ordered criminal.
“When I came in direct from the hospital,” shares Mike, “they gave me a bed to sleep on, but no pillow. no blanket and no place to put my clothes. I had to sleep with my clothes on and use a rolled up towel as a pillow.”
If there are “rules” at 6360 Peach, they are not shared with new “lodgers.” One fellow had a job working evenings. He returned to find the gate locked with a padlock. There is a night bell, but its location and usage were never shared with him. Fortunately, he had friends in Van Nuys who let him sleep on their couch until he could get back into the residence.
Another resident left the house for the day and when he returned, his personal computer was missing. He asked the on-site manager where it was, and she said that she didn’t know. He was about to call the police and report burglary/theft when he figured he would alert Ron.
Ron had confiscated the computer, but would return it the next day.
You can’t have personal items in your room because, according to Ron, they will be stolen.
Where are you to put personal possessions if you can’t have them in your room?
No one knows. There are no provisions for personal items of any kind. Lodgers are apparently presumed to be unburdened by any personal possessions.
The rooms are adequate for two pre-fab single mattresses and nothing else. Although there may be the possibility of a small nightstand with two drawers, and if you’re exceptionally fortunate, a small lamp.
Unlike Wilma’s boarding house, there are no yummy family meals for lodgers. The meat boiled in the undrained pasta served for lunch was never identified.
“There was enough starch on my plate,” remarked one resident “to stiffen all the shirts in my closet – if I had a closet. Breakfast was an egg on white bread one day, generic Cap’n Crunch, the next. Not exactly a diabetic’s delight. Fruits and vegetables? Forget it. “
“One old guy, at least seventy-years-old, was thrown out,” states Lyle “because Ron claimed that the fellow had used drugs in the house although no one ever claimed to see him use any drugs in the house. Ron had gone into the man’s room and searched through his private possessions including his brief case and all the attachments for his Nebulizer – a device to help him breath. Ron supposedly found paraphernalia and wanted the old guy to sign a paper saying that he was expelled for drug use, and he refused to sign it. Ron took his personal property such as his phone and would only return them when the guy was off the property, So, there this guy was, a senior citizen with disabilities, suddenly homeless on the street with two suitcases and a briefcase and no where to go. Do to his disability, he couldn’t even drag the suitcases anywhere. Someone took pity on him and called him a Lyft to somewhere. It should have been to a lawyer.”
Under California Law, if you have more than one lodger in your residence, they have the same rights as a tenant when it comes to eviction and illegal searches of personal property. Landlords are forbidden from taking maters into their own hands, such as forcing a paid-up resident out on the street. They must follow the law.
“Forcing that senior citizen out on the street was certainly a violation of tenant rights,” commented an online housing law expert, “And as the gentleman was a senior with health issues, the landlord violated policies that insist that the tenant must be given 30 days’ notice, alternative housing must be arranged, and continued care must be maintained for the individual, regardless of any alleged wrongdoing.”
The group residence at 6360 Peach, despite claims to the contrary, is not an independent living center. It is also not assisted living, nor a transitional program to assist the disabled. Nor is it recovery oriented sober living. Whatever it is, it isn’t what it claims to be.
A sad looking old man recently transferred from a local hospital, shirtless and polite, shuffled down the hall and meekly asked “May I please have a small glass of milk?”
The man looked as if he’d just been hit in the face with a wet towel
“All I need is a small glass of milk,” he pleaded.
“No. I’ve already locked up the milk.”
No kidding. There was a padlock on the fridge.
So much for compassion, empathy or individual care;
“You won’t find that here,” confirmed a disappointed resident speaking on the condition of name and gender anonymity in an off-premises interview. “Whatever agency regulates these places isn’t regulating this one. Ron claims that he has a special relationship and that the agencies do favors for him in getting him clients. Favors? Who is paying off whom? Ron doesn’t live here and share true living space with us. It’s a sham. We sign things when we move in that do not give disclosure of rules, regulations and of course we sign it thinking all it is a bed, three meals and some sort of emotional support and transportation to the doctor and such. I’m sure he knows that we don’t know what we’re really getting into. And do you think any of us know how to complain or even know that we can complain? Of course not. What are we going to do? Most of have physical or mental disabilities and we have nowhere else to go, and nothing to do when we get there. We are in the Van Nuys Gulag with a color TV, and not a single thing to reinforce our value as human beings. In fact, we are deemed suspicious irritants at best. Look at our rooms. The empty walls and no personal items in the room tells it all – our only value is the thousand dollars a month we, or our insurance, pays for us to be treated as disposable left overs, devoid of value, respect or dignity.”
Names have been changed to protect residents from retaliation. Whether or not the owner/manager of 6360 Peach is in violation of State, Federal or Local laws or regulations is up to the appropriate agencies to determine. Accusations do not equal convictions or culpability.