In an alley behind the burnt-out brick building where fire had left 168 people homeless--nearly half of them children--Los Angeles City Atty. James K. Hahn on Tuesday announced he will seek "substantial jail time" for its owner, convicted slumlord Vijaynand Sharma.
As tenants from the charred three-story structure at 3981 Menlo Ave. dragged plastic garbage bags filled with their salvaged belongings onto the sidewalk, Hahn said he had filed a court order to revoke their landlord's probation for safety violations in earlier cases against him.
Complying with Hahn's request, Los Angeles Municipal Court Commissioner Beverly Mosley revoked Sharma's probation, issued an arrest warrant and scheduled a hearing Dec. 11.
"This building is a tragic example of the kind of neglect that has gone on all over Los Angeles," the city attorney said, adding that the 40-year-old Sharma was "rapidly becoming, if not already the worst" landlord in Los Angeles.
Sharma, owner of about 18 buildings in the city, already faces a possible jail sentence after his Nov.19 conviction on 112 criminal counts for violations in five slum properties. The case was the largest ever brought against a single landlord in the city. Sharma will be sentenced Dec. 16 and could get a maximum 56 years in prison and be fined up to $200,000.
Tuesday's move to revoke Sharma's probation was the second filed this year against the landlord, whom Hahn described as "an irresponsible businessman who will not comply with the law." Sharma was on probation from a conviction one year ago for failing to provide water in two buildings in Koreatown and Hollywood. A condition of the probation was that he obey all laws.
The building near the Coliseum involved in Monday's arson fire was missing fire hoses and extinguishers, officials said, and had fire doors, smoke detectors and escape ladders that didn't work.
"Fortunately no one was injured. That's no thanks to Mr. Sharma," Hahn said, adding that he will seek "substantial jail time" for the landlord. "People like to think maybe slumlords are just businessmen. . . . They are violent criminals. This is a violent crime, done with premeditation, for the reason of greed."
Neither Sharma nor his attorney could be reached for comment. After his November conviction, however, Sharma said: "I am a victim of circumstances. So was Jesus Christ."