Friday, August 12 2022

After weeks of inspections, Los Angeles County officials have identified numerous health risks in a Sprawling South LA apartment complex owned by mega-owner Mike Nijjar.

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Tenants of Chesapeake apartments have long complained of pests, mold and sewage leaks in their homes. Now the county’s Department of Public Health (DPH) has substantiated their complaints.

The department released an inspection report this week that found — among other issues — units with cockroaches, suspected mold, peeling paint, leaking bathroom fixtures, exposed wires, feces fresh rodents, inadequate hot water flow and damaged sinks and showers.

Over the course of a few weeks in June, the department inspected 232 apartments in the sprawling 425-unit complex. The investigation was conducted in conjunction with the City of Los Angeles Department of Housing, which has yet to produce its own inspection report.

Sergio Vargas, main organizer of Los Angeles Californians Alliance for Community Empowerment, worked with Chesapeake residents. He said tenants began contacting local government agencies about the neglect long before recent inspections.

“I think it seems really bad for the city and the health department that they let this happen right under their noses,” Vargas said. “It took a lot of pressure from the tenants.

The 76-page inspection report includes a litany of violations. Here is a small sample of what the inspectors found in the apartments:

  • “10 live adult German cockroaches and nymphs in the kitchen”
  • “Suspicious mold-like substance on bathroom walls”
  • “20 fresh and old rodent droppings on the kitchen floor”
  • “Broken/cracked tiles in shower cubicle”
  • “Wire Exposed in Trash”

The department handed over the inspection report to Nijjar affiliate PAMA V Properties LP. The report directs PAMA to correct the violations by August 15, when county inspectors must return to the property.

PAMA attorney James Yukevich said in an email to LAist, “The health and safety of tenants is important to my clients. As with any correction notices received, they will work with the city and tenants to remedy any issues as soon as reasonably possible.

However, a public health department spokesperson said this was not the first inspection the Chesapeake property had failed. She said the department had carried out previous inspections in April and May, but “[m]all violations found during these inspections remain pending and Public Health will pursue enforcement through the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office.

A 2020 LAist survey revealed that Nijjar’s sprawling rental empire (representing at least $1.3 billion in real estate at the time) was marred by neglect. Some tenants ended up dying in dangerous living conditions.

Chesapeake apartment tenants told us they don’t understand why the city and county allowed their landlord to overlook these issues for so long.

“They see there are problems here, and they’re still doing inspections,” said 16-year-old Fernando Fernandez, who has lived with his family in the Chesapeake Apartments for more than three years. “The inspectors know the problems. And we know them. So it just frustrates me that nobody is doing anything about it.

Fernandez said that when his family complained about problems in their unit, PAMA implemented quick fixes that didn’t address the underlying issues, such as quick painting over the mold.

Another tenant, Dallas Shell, said plumbing problems in his unit caused his kitchen to flood.

“My bathroom also flooded twice,” Shell said. “My bathtub was flooded with fecal water. It came out of nowhere. And then they left it there for three days.

Shell said PAMA routinely failed to resolve complaints in a timely manner.

“They just care about the money they’re going to get from us,” he said. “They don’t really care about our health or our well-being.”

During the pandemic, many struggling low-income tenants in Los Angeles found themselves increasingly confined to unsafe apartments who violate health and safety rules. Municipal inspections dropped in response to the threat of COVID-19. As a result, many habitability issues remained unresolved.

At the same time, rent prices continued to soar across Southern California, leaving vulnerable tenants with no choice but to accept dire living conditions or become homeless.

If the LA City prosecutor pursues a case against Nijjar, it won’t be the first time. Nijjar faced a prosecution from the city attorney’s office in 2017 for rampant criminal activity in Chesapeake apartments, and another trial earlier this year in connection with nuisance conditions at a property in North Hollywood.

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