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Compton Attorney Told to Rid Apartments of Code Violations

March 27, 1988|TERRY SPENCER | Times Staff Writer

COMPTON — Two months after announcing a legal crackdown on landlords who let their properties fall into disrepair, City Atty. Wesley Fenderson Jr. has been cited by Los Angeles County inspectors for more than 30 health and safety violations found at an apartment building he owns.

Michael Spear, a supervisor for the Environmental Health Services Department, said the violations were discovered during an inspection on Tuesday. He said Fenderson's building, at 1613 E. Kay St., was found to be infested with cockroaches and had garbage strewn throughout. Other citations stemmed from shattered windows, deteriorating walls and floors, defective plumbing, faulty heaters, and broken steps and hand rails.

Fenderson has until April 5 to correct the defects, Spear said, or possibly face prosecution on misdemeanor criminal charges.

Fenderson acknowledges the problems and says he will get them promptly resolved, even though he has yet to receive an official notice of violations. On Thursday morning, the two-term city official--who draws an annual salary of $73,245--was out mowing some tall grass that inspectors had noted.

Fenderson said he has had difficulty maintaining the 2-story, 6-unit building because tenants repeatedly foil his efforts.

"As fast as you can make repairs," Fenderson said, "the building is torn back up. I have spent a heck of a lot of money on the place." Fenderson added that he has receipts and invoices that can be used--should the county take his case to court--to prove that he has attempted to maintain the property.

County inspectors were alerted to the problems by Terri Hill, a tenant who complained that she had repeatedly tried to get Fenderson to make repairs. Hill also telephoned The Times and a Los Angeles television station.

When told of her complaint, Fenderson noted that he has begun eviction proceedings against Hill and several family members who share a 2-bedroom apartment, because they have failed to make some rent payments. He said that at least 12 people are living in the

unit, which is more than the apartment is designed to accommodate. He said Hill's complaints are an attempt to delay her eviction.

Hill, 21, acknowledged that her family owes Fenderson $686. But she said that after living in the building for more than two years, she recently began withholding part of the $425 monthly rent to

protest a lack of carpeting in the apartment. She said only eight people are staying in the apartment.

Hill said she has filed several complaints with the city to force Fenderson to make repairs and improvements. And she said city inspectors were out to examine the property last year.

However, Compton Building and Safety Director William Edwards said city files contain no such complaints and there is no record of any city inspector having ever made a visit. Edwards said he became aware of the building's problems only two weeks ago when residents contacted him.

Edwards said on Tuesday that he planned to personally inspect Fenderson's complex by Thursday.

"(Fenderson) told me to inspect everything and list all of the things that are wrong so that he can make the repairs and get the building up to code," Edwards said. "I think this would be the best thing he could do because he would then have proof that he has made the repairs."

On Thursday, residents said Edwards was yet to stop by the building. A spokesman for the building department said Edwards was out of town, and that no other city inspector was scheduled to examine the property.

Two months ago, Fenderson announced that his legal staff would begin a citywide crackdown against landlords who failed to comply with various Compton codes designed to rid the city of structures that show "blight and hazardous health conditions."

"My office has been given the responsibility of code enforcement . . . in regards to (eliminating) weeds, tall grass, trash and various zoning violations," Fenderson said in a January interview. Almost anything that might lower the value of adjacent property could be considered a violation, he said at the time.

Last week, Fenderson declined to say whether any of the conditions that county inspectors found at his apartment building would violate the city codes he has set out to more strictly enforce.

Hill, a welfare recipient, charges that Fenderson rarely returns telephone calls from her.

"I've called him and he has answered the phone himself and told me he wasn't in," Hill said. "He just wants to avoid us." She said the only time Fenderson talks to her at length is when he stops by to pick up the rent check.

"He makes promises to fix the apartments, but nothing happens," Hill charged. She said that when forced to make repairs, Fenderson on occasion hires workers who are unqualified.

"We had a guy here to fix the pipes recently, but he acted like he didn't know what he was doing," Hill said. "(Fenderson) is always trying to find somebody to do things dirt cheap."

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