Home News Poor housing conditions continue at L.A. apartment complex, despite 2,000 citations

Poor housing conditions continue at L.A. apartment complex, despite 2,000 citations

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Ruth Perez, 47, and her son Yonathan, 23. The City of Los Angeles recently postponed including the South LA complex in a program to reduce rents for tenants living in troubled properties. Tennant says their concerns persist. (Robert Gautier/Los Angeles Times)

Maintenance workers installed new vinyl over the loose floorboards in Ruth Perez’s one-bedroom apartment. They put a new drain in the sink which was still clogged. They screwed new cabinet hinges into rotten wood. And they still haven’t bothered to replace dirty carpets or heavy wooden closet doors that keep falling off their tracks.

“It’s just a back-to-back problem,” said Yonathan, Perez’s 23-year-old son, who lives with his mother and two younger brothers. We are not comfortable in our own homes.”

It’s been more than six months since LA city and county officials pledged swift action to: Times article revealing rampant slum-like conditions Chesapeake Apartments is a WWII-era 425-unit complex spread across multiple blocks in South Los Angeles. Since then, law enforcement and public health inspectors have issued more than 2,000 subpoenas to the landlord, her Pama Properties, for violations including plumbing and electrical failures and cockroach and mold infestations.

Now, it appears that much of the inspection work is coming to an end, though residents say the problem continues. Tenants and activists say resentment and resignation are mounting as yet another attempt to make the Chesapeake Apartments safe and livable remains unresolved.

“We’ve been frustrating our tenants in circles about this,” said Sergio Vargas, co-director of the Los Angeles chapter of the California Alliance for Community Empowerment, which has been organizing residents of the property since the spring. “We think we need to completely change the system. Obviously this is not working for our tenants at all.”

Over the past five years, county public health inspectors have found an average of more than three violations per month at the Chesapeake Apartments, the most of any residential property in Los Angeles County at the time. Analysis of the Times spotted earlier this year Companies associated with Pama Properties president Mike Nijjar owned more than $1 billion in real estate, primarily in Southern California, and many other properties also had serious health and livability problems. 2020 survey by LAist.

Previous efforts at surveillance have failed. In 2017, LA City Attorney Mike Feuer sued Pama Properties and Nijjar over the Chesapeake Apartments crime case, which resulted in a settlement requiring an upgrade to the complex’s security system. In late 2021, city law inspectors will begin evaluating the entire complex. This evaluation is required by law for him every two years and showed him to be in good health.

However, nearly 20 new complaints were received during and after the review.City Chief Inspector Robert Guaraldi told The Times that the evaluation had failed, Blame the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Guaraldi ordered a new facility-wide evaluation, which began in June, including the county’s public health department.

Large apartment complex seen from above.

A large housing complex located south of Los Angeles. The complex is owned by a landlord who has faced significant scrutiny over slum-like conditions in many of his buildings throughout Southern California. (Robert Gautier/Los Angeles Times)

A series of activities followed. The high volume of citations prompted the landlord to make corrections throughout the complex, with inspectors returning multiple times to check on progress. After one review found a number of flaking paint, the county set up a mobile clinic to test residents for lead poisoning.

Those efforts culminated in a public hearing last month that determined whether Chesapeake Apartments would participate in a program for problem landlords. Tenants of apartments participating in this program can receive a rent reduction and pay monthly rent to the city. The city deposits money to induce landlords to make repairs. In preparation for the hearing, law enforcement officials said tenants throughout the complex are entitled to a 10% to 50% rent reduction for violations.

But at the start of the meeting, city inspectors said the roughly 1,600 code violations initially identified had dropped to 84 as fixes were made. A representative of Pama Properties requested another month to make further improvements.

“I have seen many of these cases,” Thomas Nitti, the attorney representing the landlord, said at the hearing.

The hearing officer determined that Pama Properties was making a good faith effort to comply and gave it more time. Last week, city law enforcement and county public health departments cleared all remaining violations from the initial review from June.

Jim Yukevich, another attorney for the landlord, said in a statement to The Times that the health, safety and well-being of tenants is a “top priority” for property managers. We are working diligently to fix the issues raised by the Housing Department and will continue to do so.

“We will respond as quickly as possible to anything that has been brought to our attention,” Yukevic said.

But for many residents, last month’s hearing was just another example of the difficulty of ensuring long-term repairs.

More than 20 residents have complained about the continued poor conditions in their rooms and expressed dissatisfaction with the city’s complex process to hold landlords accountable.

Hearings lasted six hours on Tuesday morning and afternoon, with the first hour spent by hearing officers taking oaths from everyone who wanted to speak. The tenants said they were unaware of what violations had been identified in their apartment and expressed shock when they were told they had been resolved, according to the city.

Angel Bivins told the hearing that the water in her apartment was regularly turned off, maintenance workers were unable to replace the blinds and screens on her windows, and smoke detectors were not working. said there is

“Do you live here, or do you want your loved ones to live here?” said Bivins. “If a repair is done in such a way, is it a proper repair for your house? If the answer is no, it should not be a proper repair for my house either. This is 100% unfair to him.” .”

Part of the concern stems from the ongoing division among those charged with overseeing the complex. Bivens and other tenants complained about mold in their units at the hearing, only to be told that the county’s public health department was handling these issues. According to a recent memo from a city law inspector, when tenants said they were being harassed by their landlords, they were instructed to call another department in the city responsible for those matters.

A man puts a cell phone flashlight on a wall

Yonathan Perez pulls back the wallpaper to reveal cockroach droppings in the kitchen of his Chesapeake apartment. (Robert Gautier/Los Angeles Times)

The challenge is Uproar at City Hall, Tennant organizer Vargas said: Last fall, city councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas was suspended from representing the district in which the Chesapeake Apartments are located after being indicted by the federal government on bribery charges. Ridley Thomas’ first successor, Herb Wesson, was kicked out in July after serving five months after a judge ruled he could not even represent the district on an interim basis due to city term limits. rice field.

Wesson’s successor, Heather Hutt, was initially strongly supportive of the Chesapeake Apartments tenants, Vargas said. When she met with her residents shortly after her inauguration, she told them she intended to succeed her landlord.

“She said, ‘I’m ready to kick Mike Nijar’s ass,'” Vargas said.

But since then, Hutt’s office has not responded to tenant requests for additional meetings and has done little to help navigate the city’s bureaucracy, he said.

“We’re seeing city councilors hiding from meetings with tenants. The housing department isn’t coming out and not holding meetings with tenants,” Vargas said. “I feel like the city of Los Angeles is ignoring this vulnerable black and brown community that is being abused by big corporate landlords.”

Hutt spokesperson Ariana Drummond said councilors were on vacation and unable to comment.

City and county officials claim they have gone to great lengths to protect Chesapeake Apartments residents. Inspectors said their surveillance continued despite being stranded, in part because many tenants said they were not allowed into their homes.By both agencies And after obtaining a warrant to enter the apartments last month, city and county inspectors searched another 50 homes and found a total of 650 violations, which are still under investigation.

“The inspection process for the Chesapeake apartments is not yet complete,” said a public health spokesperson for the county, who declined to be named in response to written questions from The Times. “Further inspections will be conducted and if necessary repairs are not completed in a timely manner, Public Health will consider all options. [the city], to get compliance. ”

Nevertheless, years of trouble have made the Perez family cynical about the improvement.

Ruth has lived in the complex for five years, and her family lives in the second apartment after the landlord moved out of the first because it was infested with mold, she said. Three years ago, her son Yonathan had to call an ambulance because her cabinet door fell off its hinges and hit her head. The cabinet has not yet been replaced. Only the hinge is new.

Kitchen cabinets with dirty and cracked paint and new hinges

After a broken kitchen cabinet door in Ruth Perez’s home in the Chesapeake Apartments, a new hinge was installed in the rotten wood. (Robert Gautier/Los Angeles Times)

Yonathan, a truck driver, said, “They just put the same thing back together, even if it’s full of mold and messed up.”

The family pays $1,017 a month in rent, and Ruth recently quit her job cutting and preparing fruit at a juice bar 20 miles away after she had reduced work hours. She now sells electronics and other products bought online or at her fairs on the street.

The Perezes say they want to move out of their Chesapeake apartment if they can. But they can’t afford anywhere else.

This story originally appeared los angeles times.

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