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Slumlord Warning

October 21, 1985

A settlement between the City of Santa Ana and a slumlord is getting very mixed reviews. Carmine Esposito agreed to plead guilty to one of 95 misdemeanor counts of violating the Santa Ana housing code, to renovate his six apartment buildings and to pay $70,000. The city is happy with it. Tenants wanted a sentence more like that in a recent Los Angeles case in which the owner served 30 days in jail and another 30 days in one of his run-down apartments.

Esposito got a settlement, not a sentence, and all things considered, it is an acceptable one. Unlike the Los Angeles slumlord, Esposito did not have prior convictions for similar offenses, even though he did allow his buildings to deteriorate and deserved to be the first major target of one of the few efforts in Orange County to crack down on slum housing.

One of the most encouraging aspects of the situation was the action of tenants. Last February, about 500 Latino renters, many of them here illegally and presumed to be afraid to complain, joined in a renters' strike to force landlords like Esposito to make needed repairs. It was a unique action that may have had as much impact on landlords as the city's criminal charges.

In addition to the $70,000 settlement, Esposito must also pay $5,000 in court costs, a $500 fine and a $350 penalty assessment. He will be on informal probation for a year.

More important than the fine, however, is the fact that he is bringing his rental units up to code by repairing broken stairways and plumbing and ridding the units of roaches. Thus far he has received certificates of occupancy from the city for three buildings, and work is continuing on the other three.

The case should serve as a warning to other slumlords that the city means business in its clampdown on those who may be content to take the rent and run, leaving tenants to pay above-standard rents for substandard housing. Esposito, one of the major slumlords and violators, cleaned up his act. The rest had better follow suit.

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