Laura Fry and her neighbors at Donner Trail Manor in Wheatland moved into the senior living apartment complex for its affordability.
As retirees and Social Security recipients, finding apartments that suit their individual needs can be a challenge. After a change in management, Fry said that the apartment community they called home has significantly impacted their health and comfort.
“The smoking issue here is rampant. Us women here are suffering,” she said.
Donner Trail Manor, like many apartment complexes, has a clear no smoking policy listed in the tenant contract. That includes both smoking outside and inside the apartment units, basically anywhere on the property.
Under a section listing property rules, the contract states that as of Jan. 1, 2012, “smoking of cigarettes or other tobacco-related products is not permitted inside the dwelling unit, in the common areas or on the grounds of the premises.”
Signs to indicate that smoking is prohibited are also attached to the property’s main office.
However, this rule is frequently ignored by residents and management alike, Fry said. Fry and her neighbors claim that smoking has become so prevalent on the property that their health and comfort are threatened.
“If you have a neighbor who smokes or vapes, these walls are hollow and it blows right into your unit,” Carolyn Harchorn said. “It’s just enough to gag you.”
The tenants claim that they have been dealing with this issue for nearly two years.
In a written statement, Harchorn wrote, “I have lived at Donner Trail Manor for 13 years. This place has never been like this. The people are so very unhappy.”
At times the smoke has been so bad that an air purifier will not help, leading her to spend some nights in her car or on a friend’s couch to avoid it, Harchorn told the Appeal.
Other residents like Linda Rosser claim that tobacco use on the property has had a direct impact on her health. Rosser, 89, has lived at Donner Trail Manor since 2012. In the last two years, she was diagnosed with cancer, but has since recovered.
“I told my doctor about the smokers in these apartments and he believes that the secondhand smoke contributed to my cancer,” she said.
In the past, Rosser had been able to avoid the smoke by opening her door and windows or exiting her apartment. Now she is unable to leave “unless someone takes her,” she said.
Rosser also claims to have spent nights in her car or at her son’s house to avoid breathing in secondhand smoke while she sleeps.
In a written statement, Rosser said that she and other tenants have raised the issue to management several times only to be ignored or placated. After a change in management within the last year, Donner Trail Manor is now run by apartment manager Deanna Calibo and overseen by Solari Enterprises, a Los Angeles-based property management organization.
Tenants claim that each time the smoking issue has been brought to Calibo’s attention, they are referred to the regional managers at Solari Enterprises.
“After about a year or so of phone calls, we were told not to call Solari anymore,” Rosser said. “... Management is telling us they can’t do anything anymore. Being in breach of contract doesn’t mean anything, I guess.”
During a visit to the apartment complex on Nov. 15, the Appeal observed two individuals smoking near the entrance of Donner Trail Manor. Fry later identified the pair as Calibo and her son, who is also a maintenance worker for the property.
The Appeal reached out to Calibo to discuss Donner Trail Manor’s smoking policy, but was referred to the property’s regional manager at Solari Enterprises. Neither Calibo nor the regional manager were available as of press time to make a statement.
“The biggest problem, really, is management. All they talk about is doing good for the seniors, but they don’t even do that. They take from the seniors,” Harchorn said.
Some tenants have expressed interest in moving, but as seniors on a fixed income, moving is not a simple solution, Fry said.
“This is subsidized housing. The people living here have a limited income. Some of them are paying as low as $50 dollars per month because that’s all they can afford based on their social security. You can’t go out and rent anything if everything else is asking for $1,600 each month. I was on a waitlist for three years before I was able to move into this apartment. You can’t just pick up and move somewhere else,” she said. “Most people here don’t make a lot of money, so that’s not an option for them. If everyone had a place to go, they would leave.”
Fry is currently working to develop a tenant’s association in order to ensure that her community’s needs are met and acknowledged.
Although she has the means to find other living arrangements, she plans to stay at Donner Trail Manor in solidarity with her neighbors.
“I feel a sense of responsibility which is why I started the tenant’s association. These people have nothing. I just feel like someone needs to help them,” she said.
Fry said that several other tenants have expressed interest in joining a tenant’s association, and she plans to hold the group’s first meeting before Jan. 1, 2023.