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Family goes without water for 38 days after landlord refuses to turn it on

Posted at 10:20 PM, Jul 23, 2015
and last updated 2015-07-24 10:01:24-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- A mother and her 4 kids have gone 38 days without water. They say it was turned off by the landlord. Sasha Alvarez-Pelaez says this is just one of several things her landlord has done that has made their lives uncomfortable, even impossible, to live in their rented duplex off Prospect Avenue in Grand Rapids.

“I spoke with the city many times and it was really discouraging at times,” said Sasha Alvarez-Pelaez. "I just wanted to give up, but don't think you are ever helpless against a landlord just because they are your landlord. You do have rights."

Palaez reached out to FOX 17 Problem Solver Cassandra Arsenault to figure out why they were left high and dry.

The good news is that she had her water was turned on Wednesday afternoon, but the bad news is a legal battle is just about to begin.

It all started with a lease that said nothing about water. Palaez assumed her rent included that utility until nine months went by and her landlord handed a water bill for more than $600 to her and the family that lives in the adjacent unit. He told them to split the bill. Palaez said a notice followed, and then the water was shut off for more than a month.

Now she’s fighting back.

“We'll take a shower friends' houses and we will go to my mom's house and take showers there,” said Palaez. "I have five-gallon buckets over there will will go wherever we take showers at and we will fill them up and we'll bring water back to the house in case we need to wash dishes, mop the floors, anything like that; flush the toilets while we're here."

FOX 17 News first talked to Palaez last Friday, which was day 33 with no water. She went five more days after that without a drop. She said it was the longest 38 days of her life, with one disappointment after another.

“Somebody called Child Protective Services, and my kids cannot be here at all. They cannot sleep here with me. They cannot stay here with me.”

FOX 17 checked with the water company. They confirmed the water had been shut off. They said Sasha and the adjacent unit could pay the bill, but regardless, the landlord had ordered the water to stay shut off.

Palaez said this is just one incident of the long list of erratic behavior from her landlord, Jose Trujillo. In fact, right before this water incident, Trujillo left her in the dark for nearly three weeks," Palaez said.

“I was out of the house for 18 days, because there were no lights and no gas.”

We checked with the code compliance office in Grand Rapids. Mr. Trujillo has had five complaints this year, and two of them are still open. Also he was fined $265 for shutting off the electricity with no notice. Palaez claims he tried to pass the fine onto her.

"He was fined $265, which he then told me that I needed to pay for making a false complaint with the city," she said. "Obviously I got the documents that say that's not true.”

Palaez's lease reads, "Tenant is responsible for electrical, gas, and trash. Palaez thought that meant her water was included with her rent. It wasn’t until nine months after she moved in that Trujillo finally gave her a water bill and told her and her neighbor to split it, she claims.

With just one meter on the property, there were questions.

“It's a side-by-side duplex. I just figured it was included in the rent, because how are you supposed to distinguish who is whose? I have four kids. I have a family of five. My neighbor has three people in her family, but has a washer and dryer. So, who is to say you used that much and you used that much?”

The city code compliance office said new duplexes and apartments are obligated to have separate meters, but older buildings like Trujillo’s that were built with one meter can stay that way. So, while the setup isn't illegal, what is against the law is a landlord shutting off water when people are living there. A court ruled Trujillo had to turn on the water.

“He was informed that if he did not get the water on by 3 p.m. yesterday, the house was going to be condemned, and then he would no longer be able to rent it.”

The water was turned on in the afternoon on Wednesday, but now Trujillo is trying to evict Palaez and her neighbor.

“I just feel he has caused a lot of heart ache and suffering, said Palaez. "When my oldest son found out we had water yesterday, he started crying, because he was so happy he could finally come home.”

With the water now back on, we were hoping to hear Jose Trujillo’s side of the story. He speaks Spanish, so we brought interpreters from El Informador to help us make numerous calls. We went to his home, and gave him a week to respond to FOX 17. He has remained silent to FOX 17 as well as Palaez.

“I have not talked to him," said Palaez. "He doesn't answer any of my phone calls, so I am not really interested in talking to him. I will just see him in court and we will go from there.”

Palaez plans to fight by taking her landlord to court.

“If I don't stand up for myself, he is going to think he can just keep on doing this. He needs to learn a lesson. If he doesn't, he is going to keep on doing to other people that maybe don't know they have the ability to stand up for themselves.”

Palaez plans to leave the residence when her lease runs out in September but wants to follow through with her court action.

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