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Disabled vet deals with house of horrors — a $2,000 a month rental

By JOE GOLDEEN | Tribune News Service | Published: March 17, 2017

Stockton, Calif. — Anselmo and Irene Deharo pay $2,000 a month in rent for a house with no potable water. The house in rural Tracy doesn't have water because the unsealed well that supplies it is contaminated with bacteria, indicating the water has been exposed to feces and is a risk to human health.

If the property owner had been responsive when Anselmo Deharo — a 67-year-old disabled Army veteran currently battling cancer — brought it to their attention, he would have no reason to go public. But that's not the case.

After a few months, Deharo made contact with the San Joaquin County Environmental Health Department. The water has been tested on several dates from several sources and been found positive for total coliform and E. coli.

"The presence of total coliform and E. coli indicates there are pathogens in the well that could cause sickness. It is a significant issue," said Linda Turkatte, the county's environmental health director.

Turkatte said the property owner — whom The Record is not identifying at this time and who did not respond to a request for comment — was issued a seven-day notice last Friday to repair or replace the well.

"We take this very, very seriously," Turkatte said. "This well was not an approved water source, and the lab results support that."

The property owner responded by having a well driller come out to the Deharo home south of Old River earlier this week to determine what needed to be done. Turkatte said her office understands that it may take some time to fix the problem, "depending on how extensive the repair work is. We still need to determine what needs to be done."

Turkatte said the property owner, bottom line, is responsible for supplying potable water to the home the Deharos rent. Because that's not possible right now, she said, the property owner has been directed to supply the Deharos with bottled water at the rate of 30 gallons per day — 10 gallons per resident per day.

Deharo said those deliveries have been inconsistent. They didn't start until Sunday, and there was no delivery on Monday. On Tuesday, they only got 28 gallons. What has been consistent, he said, is the lack of concern and slow response on the part of the property owner.

"She says her water is the same, but she hasn't been forthright with us since the beginning," Deharo said. "She said, 'You may not be a good fit for this home.' "

The Deharos moved into the remodeled country rental home in November after 10 years in their last home. They had to move out of that home after the owner passed away and the heirs decided to sell. In the midst of their move, Deharo had to deal with renal cell carcinoma, also known as kidney cancer, that led to numerous trips to the Bay Area. And more bad news was to come.

Deharo fractured his neck, and while he was being treated at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Palo Alto last fall, doctors discovered that the fracture was caused by his cancer metastasizing to three of his upper vertebrae. The subsequent surgery left him with 23 stitches in his neck and an order not to lift more than 5 pounds.

Spots have appeared at the base of his skull and he currently is taking a chemotherapy drug that costs $15,000 for 30 pills. The contaminated water in his home, he believes, has not contributed to his poor physical health but has added a high level of unnecessary stress the past three months.

All of this has taken its toll on the retired construction inspector, who also worked part-time for the city of Modesto in water conservation.

While the Deharos and their son consider moving out, Deharo said, he feels terrible because the VA came into the home and made both bathrooms and an outside staircase handicapped accessible at no cost to him or the property owner.

Since they've been living in the home, the Deharos have gotten by without using the tap water. When they go to the Palo Alto VA, they are able to stay in the Defenders Lodge. Back home in Tracy, they take an occasional shower in their recreational vehicle. They even stayed at a motel for several days, with portions of the bills getting picked up by Tracy's Salvation Army and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a service group affiliated with their church, St. Bernard's of Tracy.

An aide to County Supervisor Bob Elliott, who represents the Tracy area, said he has spoken with Deharo three times as well as "advocates on his behalf like the American Legion."

Senior legislative aide Scott Tyrrell said the supervisor is aware of the problem and has reached out to county staff and been assured "the Environmental Health Department is working with the property owner to abate the issues." The house also is on the radar with the county's code enforcement program, he said.

Unrelated to their water well woes, the Deharos have had to deal with a spate of other issues: nonstandard plumbing under the kitchen sink, a leaky roof and they discovered this week the central air conditioner doesn't work. Add to that several feet of contaminated water in a small basement under the house that needs to be pumped out every time it rains — and the pump isn't working — and Deharo proclaimed:

"Our dream house has turned into a house of horrors."

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