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Life With Sewage in Sink and Bold Rats : Housing: Insects, filth and disrepair plague a Compton complex marred by conditions one official called the 'most flagrant' he has seen.

November 17, 1990|DARRELL DAWSEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For a nearly a year, Pat Johnson has been bailing out the urine and raw sewage that bubbles up into her kitchen sink.

Her upstairs neighbor, Rissie Caldwell, has been warding off cockroaches and rats so bold that they often try to climb into bed with her.

Terry Foster, another neighbor, has nailed his back door shut to keep it from falling onto one of his three small children and has propped sticks under a sink to prevent it from crashing through his floor.

Throughout the two-story apartment complex on Rosecrans Avenue in Compton, residents Friday recounted tales of their struggle to surmount health and property conditions that a police officer characterized as "the most flagrant case" of slum conditions in Compton history.

"This place is terrible, and we can't do all that needs to be done by ourselves," said resident Foster, 28.

The Los Angeles County Health Department and the Compton Police Department weighed in this week when officers arrested the owner of the building, Bela Kocsy. Police said Kocsy failed to appear at a district attorney's hearing that stemmed from a Health Department investigation of the property. Kocsy was released hours later after paying $1,500 bail.

"This is the most flagrant case we've ever had in this city," said Lt. Al Smith, a police spokesman. "I have been on the force 26 years, and I have never seen something like this before."

Health Department officials said they have dealt with Kocsy previously. Mike Spear, the department's environmental health specialist, said health officials reprimanded Kocsy in March, warning him to clean up the complex.

Spear said the department made a number of inspections of the property, finding the complex in various stages of disrepair. He said Kocsy never fully satisfied health investigators.

"The property seesawed back and forth between improvements and violations," Spear said. "Finally, we scheduled a D.A. hearing to set . . . a final compliance date, but Kocsy didn't show up."

Reached on Friday at his Lawndale home--a freshly painted two-story structure surrounded by lush potted plants and a row of towering evergreen trees--the alleged slumlord declined to comment about the case or the condition of his property.

The police did, however.

"The plumbing at the location is really bad," Smith said. "You're getting raw sewage running out into the lawn behind apartments. You got urine and feces. It's where the kids used to play.

"They can't play there anymore."

On Friday, the children played around the waste. As 8- and 9-year-olds scampered around piles of trash, 35-year-old Billy Johnson toured the complex that has been his home since he moved in with his sister nearly two years ago.

Walking upstairs in a corridor on one side of the Rosecrans complex, Johnson hopped over one shattered step and passed through the door-less doorway of a second-floor unit.

Inside the foul-smelling apartment, flies swarmed about piles of discarded egg cartons, old envelopes, shattered wood, plaster chips, rotting food, rancid diapers and the broken remains of filthy furniture.

"This place is a breeding ground for rats and roaches," he said, moving with care through the debris.

He stepped onto the balcony of the unit and pointed to a hose stretching between a faucet on the side of the building and a hole in the ground.

"That hole is where some of the waste was coming up onto the ground," Johnson said. "You had feces and urine all along the side of the building. They are (diverting) the waste into the waste pipes in the building."

Johnson said the plumbing is so bad in his building that sometimes, when his upstairs neighbors use their bathroom, the water and waste rush into the sink in his sister's kitchen.

"And that's sickening," he said.

Standing in the living room of her apartment near the rear of the complex, Rissie Caldwell described what she saw as an even bigger problem than the waste.

"Rats, roaches, termites--big ones too," Caldwell said. "The rats are really bad. I kill about 10 rats a week. One even tried to get in the bed between me and my grand-baby. Shoot, they come out and try to watch TV with you."

On the other side of the complex, Terry Foster said he is afraid to walk down his own stairs.

"I have a daughter who is handicapped, and I have to carry her up and down the stairs every day," Foster said. "One day, I just know I'm going to slip and hurt myself."

Walking from his daughter's room, Foster banged on a heater in a hallway of his tiny apartment.

"Lookit," he said, rapping on the heater a second time. "This don't work either. I'll tell you, don't nothing hardly work around this place. This place ain't for nobody to live. Nobody."

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