A father and son who own and manage at least 50 apartments in Wilmington are scheduled to appear in court in downtown Los Angeles today on criminal charges stemming from alleged slum conditions at four of their properties.
Victor Corpuz, 74, a former honorary mayor of Wilmington, and his son, Samuel, 46, are considered among the worst slumlords in Los Angeles, said Deputy City Atty. Stephanie Sautner, who heads the city attorney's housing enforcement task force.
"We only deal with the worst," Sautner said. "The fact that they are being prosecuted by the task force shows it is not an ordinary case."
The Corpuzes pleaded not guilty in May to dozens of misdemeanor counts that resulted from inspections at 13 apartments at two properties on Wilmington Boulevard and two on Island Avenue, according to the city attorney's office. Inspectors found rat and cockroach infestation, inadequate plumbing and hot water, exposed electrical wires, missing screens and "generally dilapidated interiors," a spokesman said.
In interviews this week, both Corpuzes said most of their apartments are in good condition and that they are repairing those that the city has identified as substandard. Victor Corpuz said the city is "picking on us," claiming that officials are prejudiced against his family because they are Filipino.
"My apartments are not the best, but they are fairly good," Victor Corpuz said. "I am not a slumlord."
Added Samuel Corpuz: "If I ignore them, then they can prosecute me and I should get what is coming to me. But this is not right. We are doing all kinds of improvements. We are cooperating."
But tenants at one of the buildings said this week that they routinely withhold portions of their rent to pay for basic improvements that the Corpuzes have refused to make.
"They never fix anything, but they always want more money," said Maria Ixta, who has rented an apartment for eight years from the Corpuzes. On Tuesday, her husband, Santos, bought a $52.22 faucet for the kitchen sink and installed it himself after dripping water overflowed the sink, she said.
Earlier, the Ixtas nailed boards around the sink and along the kitchen counter because they said the Corpuzes had not replaced crumbling tiles. A faucet in the shower has no handle, and the Ixtas must use a metal pin rigged to the valve to turn on the cold water.
"A couple of weeks ago we had problems with the sink, so we had to call a plumber and deduct it from our rent," said Sergio Ixta, 16. "(Victor Corpuz) got mad, but we needed to wash dishes and to take showers. What were we supposed to do?"
Victor Corpuz was charged in March with 17 violations of various health and building and safety codes at a duplex on Wilmington Boulevard, and Samuel Corpuz was charged with 43 violations at a three-unit building on Wilmington Boulevard and two four-unit buildings on Island Avenue, the city attorney's office said.
Each of the counts carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Sautner said the city attorney's office will seek jail terms for both men if they are convicted. Their cases are set for trial today in Los Angeles Municipal Court.
"We're going to be seeking the maximum penalty to send the message that they'd better clean up their act or get out of the landlord business," said City Atty. James K. Hahn in a written statement.
In 1982, Victor Corpuz, his daughter, Rosita Gutierrez, and his son-in-law, Ruben Gutierrez, were found guilty by a San Pedro Municipal Court jury of 10 misdemeanor counts stemming from slum conditions at a third building on Wilmington Boulevard, the city attorney's office said. Corpuz was sentenced to six months in jail and fined $5,000, but the conviction was later overturned by a higher court. In 1984, Corpuz pleaded guilty to 10 misdemeanor counts and paid $8,500 in fines, the city attorney's office said.
Also in 1982, the city filed a civil suit against the Corpuz family in an effort to force family members to clean up nine buildings in Wilmington, including the four involved in today's court appearance. In 1983, the city and the family reached a stipulated judgment that forbids the Corpuzes from selling any of the properties until they are cleaned up. With no admission of wrongdoing, the family also agreed to pay $22,750 in civil penalties and legal costs.
Both Victor and Samuel Corpuz said this week that they have been repairing the buildings, but they complained that the city has not given them enough time to finish the job. A tenant of one building on Wilmington Boulevard confirmed that the Corpuzes have made repairs.
"They replaced our sink and cleaned everything up," said Robyn Reed, 14, who lives with her family in a two-bedroom apartment next to the Ixtas. "We still have to get the place exterminated--we have cockroaches--but (Samuel Corpuz) bought us a new door after somebody broke into the place."