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City Sues Owners of Apartments : Housing: More than 150 health and safety violations are cited at the complex on San Fernando Road. Officials are trying to relocate tenants.

April 15, 1993|MARTHA L. WILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GLENDALE — "Will it be better for us if we go someplace else?" asked the 14-year-old girl with wide brown eyes, who giggled at the cockroaches scurrying at the doorway of a neighboring apartment.

It was a brave question for Norma Garcia, a student at Toll Junior High, who lives with her family of eight and about 100 others--mostly poor Latinos--in a dilapidated apartment complex in an industrial section of Glendale.

But it was also a question no one can answer.

After 18 years of attempting to coerce landlords to provide better conditions for their tenants, Glendale city officials late last month filed suit against owners of the 27-unit complex at 6206 San Fernando Road, citing more than 150 violations of health and safety codes.

City officials predict that the extent of violations is so horrendous that the owner/landlords--and the list of them is long and convoluted--will have no choice but to demolish the four rows of ugly gray warehouse-style buildings that 24 impoverished families call home.

Residents say they live there because it is the only housing they can afford.

"It would cost too much money to go anywhere else," said Santos Vidal Mejia, 32, who shares a one-room unit with five others.

Mejia, like most of the other tenants, is unemployed. He has lived in his apartment for three years. Similar rents--ranging from $450 a month for a single to $625 for two rooms--cannot be found elsewhere in the Glendale area, he said.

The city filed suit March 30, seeking to force the landlords to "abate a public nuisance." Further court action seeking a preliminary injunction and relocation of tenants to other housing in the city is expected to be taken within days, said Deputy City Atty. Carmen O. Merino.

Meanwhile, officials are working to find new housing for tenants, said Merino, who called conditions at the apartment complex "the worst that I have seen."

Violations include doors and windows that do not fit or are broken and leaking; faulty plumbing and wiring, and missing or non-functioning smoke detectors. Gray blotches of mold is growing on the floors, walls and ceilings in many of the units, soaked by the heavy rains this year. Heaters in some units do not work or are improperly vented. Garbage overflows the single trash bin at the rear of the complex, and units are infested with cockroaches and other insects.

Victor F. Triplett, who city officials said is the managing owner of the buildings, could not be reached for comment. Tenants said Triplett's mother, Victoria Triplett, was the resident manager, but moved out within days after the city filed suit.

A call to a phone number listed on a "For Rent" sign posted on the building was answered by a man who identified himself only as Victor Triplett's brother. He said the phone belonged to his mother but that she was out of town. The man also said he is not an owner of the building and has no knowledge of problems there.

Merino said that a search of title records to the property indicates that up to 90 people, partnerships, trusts and other entities have held interest, but that current ownership is not clear.

The city is seeking to hold the owners responsible for the costs of repairs and relocation of tenants, including rent for up to six months. If the owners refuse to make repairs according to Glendale standards, the city could demolish the buildings.

The alleged violations are a misdemeanor and could carry fines and punishment in jail. Because of the extent of violations, the suit has been assigned to Burbank Superior Court, where a hearing is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 26. However, Merino said the city expects to take action soon.

Meanwhile, tenants said they were given flyers last week notifying them that a new manager is making repairs. Several new doors and windows are stacked in one vacant unit, and tenants said work crews began operating last week.

However, city officials said no permits have been issued for the repairs and that much of the work being done does not meet building and safety code standards. For instance, the new windows that have been installed are too small, not providing enough light and air. Stucco has been crudely patched where repairs have been made, and some windows are painted shut and cannot be opened.

From four to eight people live in each of the tiny units, which consist of one or two rooms, with a kitchen and bath.

Laura Landa, 27, lives in one of the single units with her four children, ages 10 months to 11 years. She keeps a training potty under a bathroom sink to catch water from a leaking pipe. Some electrical wiring is exposed and a wall heater does not work, she said.

Landa has a single bed, a set of bunk beds, a broken sofa and a television in the crowded, dark room where the wall boards are stained and buckled by water. She said she pays $450 a month rent from her $500 in monthly welfare payments.

Landa said she has lived in the apartment complex for three years but recently moved from a smaller $300-a-month unit because it was soaked from the rains and infested with cockroaches.

Her home now, she said, pausing momentarily while mopping the kitchen floor, is much better.

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