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Agencies Going After 'Pack Rat' Landlord

April 26, 1985|LYNN O'SHAUGHNESSY | Times Staff Writer

As far as law enforcement officials can tell, Don Hyatt Martin has never thrown anything out.

Martin, a demolition contractor from North Hollywood, stores shredded palm leaves in barrels. He owns dozens, perhaps hundreds, of unhinged doors; 1,000 one-gallon containers of flammable liquid, some of which leak; tons of broken concrete and used lumber, and a large supply of Popsicle sticks. His inventory of broken refrigerators, stoves and rusty water heaters is vast. The junk--which he stores at numerous apartments and houses he owns in the San Fernando Valley--has provided homes to countless rats and termites.

His penchant for saving junk has gotten him in trouble with the city attorney, the Fire Department, the Building and Safety Department, the county Health Department, the state Department of Motor Vehicles--and quite a few irate neighbors in North Hollywood.

"He is the worst pack rat, no question about it, in the whole city," said Michael A. Theule, a Fire Department inspector who has been investigating Martin for two years. "Most pack rats scavenge in trash cans; this guy takes down whole buildings and stores them illegally."

Not long ago, according to puzzled authorities, Martin hauled a house that apparently was meant to be demolished onto one of his properties on Cartwright Avenue in North Hollywood. To squeeze it into the backyard through a driveway, Martin had it sawed in two. City crews are hauling it away this week.

At one 12-unit apartment building in North Hollywood, Martin has two paying tenants; the other 10 apartments are overflowing with junk.

Authorities estimate that it will cost the city up to $100,000--which it will try to collect from his tax bills--to clean up several of Martin's junk-laden properties in North Hollywood and a six-acre spread in Sun Valley.

This week and last, city workers dismantled and carted off one of Martin's apartment buildings, condemned in 1963, which inspectors joked must have been kept erect "by termites holding hands."

Martin's trouble with the law apparently started four years ago when he was taken to court by the city for allegedly maintaining an "illegal nonconforming" carport. Since then, his legal problems have escalated into a myriad of charges, ranging from alleged use of fake driver's licenses to maintaining a public health hazard, said Deputy City Atty. John Rocke, who is handling at least six cases filed against the landlord. The city's misdemeanor cases are scheduled to go to trial June 5.

Martin, however, blames a government conspiracy for his legal problems. "If it comes to court, you will find they are lying," the 42-year-old said without elaborating.

Authorities say that Martin apparently owns or has access to a $1 million or more worth of property and 100 vehicles. Yet, investigators say, he wears ragged clothing and looks unkempt.

"You can talk to him at times and think you're talking to a business executive," Theule said. "At other times, he looks like a transient."

"He is a very successful, very shrewd and bright businessman," said Rocke, who calls Martin "sort of like a modern-day Howard Hughes."

Martin, a tall, thin man, refused to shed any light on his financial resources, except to say, "Everything is an exaggeration."

Even Martin's father, Claude Martin, finds his son inscrutable. Junk, the father said, "is more valuable to him than business income. I can't understand it."

Martin said his son let his affairs slide since some homes he owned were destroyed in a fire several years ago. For the last week, Claude Martin has been trying to remove the trash from a Vineland Avenue apartment building before the Fire Department comes to clean out the place.

Law enforcement officials also have had trouble locating Martin, and say that their investigations are complicated by his use of aliases. Last week, the state Department of Motor Vehicles arrested him on five felony perjury charges stemming from the use of fake driver's licenses, officials said.

Officials Mystified

Officials are mystified by exactly what methods Martin uses to acquire his property. They suspect that he spots run-down properties tied up in probate or in foreclosure proceedings; some of the property titles are clouded and others list what authorities suspect are Martin's aliases.

Martin has sued the city in connection with the cleanup of one of his Hesby Street properties. He said city crews confiscated valuables, including tools, which now prevents him from cleaning up his properties.

Authorities say that Martin often rents to illegal aliens or other people who speak little or no English. Many seem not to mind the mess.

One of Martin's renters is Ricky Santiago, a cook who pays $350 a month to live in the apartment building on Vineland Avenue.

'It's OK With Me'

"It's dirty outside (but) it's OK with me," Santiago said through a broken screen door.

"He's a very nice man," another Martin tenant said, "but he just has a problem."

The trial against Martin could take all summer, Rocke said. Martin, however, contends that because authorities keep filing cases against him and because he already has spent some time in jail, he is unable to clean up his properties.

"You can't do anything when you're in jail," he complained.

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