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Tenant disputes reason for leaving

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On Sept. 15, disabled Atascadero resident Tracy Campbell, his wife, and their 13-year-old foster son will leave their apartment. Their landlord recently asked them to pack their bags in the middle of their first-year lease. The reason, the Campbells claim: They reported a sex crime against a child.

In a case destined to hit the county court docket in the coming weeks, a 20-year-old neighbor of the Campbells allegedly molested a 13-year-old boy visiting the couple's foster son.

The mother of that alleged victim told New Times that the purported perpetrator forced her son into sexual contact, threatening to call on her boyfriend to "beat his ass and kill him" if he didn't cooperate.

The alleged crime occurred in the garage of Campbell's Section 8 townhouse rental.

Police arrived at the scene Aug. 9, investigated the accusations, and arrested the suspect the following day. The whole matter churned up discord in the especially quiet North County neighborhood.

Soon after, Jim Montes, landlord to the Campbells and the suspect, stated that he wanted the Campbells out.

"He told me, 'I don't want calls from police in the middle of the night,'" Campbell reported. "So, basically, 'Hey crippled old people, you gotta move.'"

Montes disagrees with the correlation and responded that he made a firm decision to terminate the Campbells' lease as early as Aug. 2, based on a history of significant breeches to the rental agreement. Asserting that publicly disclosing prior conflicts would jeopardize Campbell's Section 8 qualification, the landlord declined to provide any specific examples.

"He isn't a victim of any sort," Montes said. "I put up with him for a while."

Tenants' rights attorney Andrew Holcombe believed that, based on the claims offered by the couple, the situation appeared legally actionable. Fair-housing legislation, Holcombe said, proves particularly sensitive with Section 8 first-year evictions though the Campbell's case didn't quite get to that point.

Campbell signed a mutual agreement to terminate the lease an outwardly confounding resolution. The rub is, litigation would require a proper eviction and, long before any settlement or decision in the matter, Campbell could easily lose his Section 8 voucher.

Any legal action in this case would hinge on whether the defense could establish a prior knowledge of the suspect's predilection toward the alleged behavior.

Atascadero police found no prior contact with the suspect, let alone anything of this nature or severity. A search of the Meghan's Law database and county records also turned up no past history.

San Luis Obispo housing attorney Mike Blank one of the Central Coast's few low-income housing defense specialists stated that an eviction almost universally leads to the revocation of a Section 8 voucher. But what about a mutual termination agreement, as in the Campbells' case?

Campbell's caseworker declined to comment on case specifics, citing confidentiality laws, but claimed that the Housing Authority looks into multiple elements before revoking Section 8 qualification after an eviction. As a result of the termination agreement, the woman explained, Campbell will be allowed to transfer to a different location and maintain his status.

Both Tracy and his wife suffer from a degenerative disc disease. They petitioned congressman Bill Thomas for acceptance into the federally subsidized housing program in 2005.

Section 8 provides construction or redevelopment bonuses to landlords offering low-income leases on the property, but the extremely high demand for such rentals keeps the waiting list several years long. Housing and Urban Development is no longer even accepting applications because of the severity of a recent bottleneck.

Due to a definitive lack of options and the imposing difficulty of reacquiring a voucher, Campbell feels that the rigid structure of Section 8 code forced him to abdicate his legal rights. According to Blank, the pressure to "go ahead and sign the mutual termination agreement" proves fairly common for Section 8 tenants facing a possible eviction.

Meanwhile and as of publication Atascadero Police Department detective Jeff Wilshusen continued to channel case documents to the District Attorney's Office for the assessment of potential criminal action against the alleged molester. Prosecutors couldn't yet disclose what charges they plan to pursue. She remains a tenant on the property.

"They haven't thrown her out," fumed the mother of the alleged victim.

Montes said that only the courts can determine the woman's guilt and, until then, he couldn't take action.

 

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