More than 100 Santa Ana residents involved in a rent strike filed lawsuits Tuesday against the owner of their Brook Street apartments, seeking damages for "pain and suffering" caused by living in the allegedly deteriorating apartments.
The strike began in February, when tenants alleged that landlord Carmine Esposito was ignoring city housing inspectors' orders to rectify health and safety problems at the apartments. The problems included structural and electrical hazards, vermin infestation, plumbing deficiencies and broken windows.
Attorney Richard Spix, who represents more than 300 families now participating in rent strikes in Santa Ana and Anaheim, said that the latest litigation was filed in response to lawsuits brought by Esposito against the tenants in April.
The strikers originally had filed a suit attempting to force Esposito to repay them for what they claim were high rental rates--$375 to $500 a month. The landlord then filed countersuits in April seeking to nullify their request and collect payments of rent money deposited in a bank account pending final repair work.
Spix argued that several code violations still haven't been repaired at the apartments, at 1207, 1213, 1221, 1227, 1235 and 1239 Brook St. "We think it's a breach of contract to make these people live with vermin," he said.
According to the suits filed Tuesday, Esposito "had actual and constructive knowledge of each of the defective conditions and has failed and/or refused to take any adequate action to remedy and repair" them.
Some of the 105 suits filed asked for $500,000 in exemplary and punitive damages. They also asked the court to keep Esposito from evicting tenants and collecting rent until the full repairs have been made.
Some Repairs Made
Since the strike began, Esposito has made some repairs on the apartments. One of the buildings has been brought up to code, another is close to code, and work is progressing on the other four, said Dave Hermance, a Santa Ana code enforcement supervisor.
Neither Esposito nor his attorney, Terence Calder, could be reached for comment. A trial to determine whether 26 of the tenants may be evicted is currently under way in Central Municipal Court, and Spix said that he thinks a decision may be made later this week.
The city filed a 95-count complaint against Esposito in March, alleging violations of the housing code. Deputy City Atty. Luis Rodriguez said a trial has been set for Oct. 22.