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City Seeks Accused Slumlord : Housing: A defendant in several Los Angeles cases has been identified as a principal owner of the allegedly substandard apartments on San Fernando Road.

April 22, 1993|MARTHA L. WILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GLENDALE — A wealthy businessman once described as "the worst slumlord in Los Angeles" is being sought by authorities as one of the key owners of a Glendale apartment complex where, city officials say, living conditions are deplorable.

Documents filed with the county recorder's office indicate Surya P. Gupta, and several business holdings he has managed, have interest in a 27-unit complex at 6206 San Fernando Road where more than 150 violations of health and safety codes have been cited.

The City of Glendale filed suit March 30 against building owners seeking to force repairs, or to relocate the more than 100 tenants, and to demolish the structure as a health hazard. Gupta and the Noori Mehta Trust, once managed by Gupta, are among the documented owners, the city attorney said.

Both Gupta and the trust in the past faced civil and criminal charges brought by Los Angeles for substandard conditions at several apartment buildings--including an apartment hotel in Hollywood where residents in 1986 won a suit against the landlord after conducting a tenant strike.

Glendale Deputy City Atty. Carmen O. Merino said the city has focused on Gupta after a Glendale resident notified officials late last week that her family sold the complex to Gupta in 1972 and that the landlord has a history of alleged violations.

The city has hired a private process server to find Gupta.

Los Angeles City officials said Gupta is well known as an owner of slum housing, but that he has generally escaped severe penalties in criminal prosecutions. He was fined a then-record $100,000 in a Los Angeles criminal suit as part of a $221,000 settlement in 1985, according to accounts in The Times. Gupta also was listed as an owner of at least three other buildings where criminal violations were cited in the early 1980s, according to the accounts. Those cases apparently were settled after lengthy court battles and countersuits against Los Angeles by Gupta.

Michael Wilkinson, a Los Angeles deputy city attorney with the housing enforcement unit, said in an interview this week that the city recently prosecuted another case involving the Noori Mehta Trust, but the trustee could not be found. He said the city "ended up settling with an individual who leased the building" in which corrections had been ordered.

Wilkinson and other Los Angeles enforcement officials said they have found a pattern of complex ownership transfers among several alleged slumlords, which has made cases difficult to prosecute. Unlike corporations, which are required to register officers with the secretary of state, principals of trusts and partnerships can be hidden or changed without public notice.

"It makes it difficult for government to track down," Wilkinson said.

In the Glendale case, city officials said a man named Victor Triplett claims he owns and manages the property on San Fernando Road, but that, according to county documents, many others, including Gupta and the Noori Mehta Trust, hold title.

Triplett requested a copy of a trust deed and quitclaim deed in 1988, but asked that the documents be mailed to the Noori Mehta Trust. One of the deeds indicates the trust held a $1.13-million interest in the property.

The most recent trust deed on the property, recorded in January, 1991, was signed by Krishna Goel as trustee of the Noori Mehta Trust, and Kusum Mehta, listed in other documents as Gupta's wife. The deed indicated a transfer of seven properties, including the Glendale complex, to a firm in New Delhi, India.

None of the individuals named in the Glendale city suit could be contacted by The Times.

Merino said the professional firm hired to serve legal notice of the suit was having difficulty locating the individuals.

Prosecution of the case has been given "top priority" by the city, Merin said.

The suit seeks to force the owners to "abate a public nuisance." Numerous complaints have been filed against the owners for the past 18 years and include violations such as doors and windows that do not fit or are broken and leaking; faulty plumbing and wiring; missing or non-functioning smoke detectors, and improperly vented heaters, some of which do not work.

Mold from rain that leaked in during the recent storms grows on floors, walls and ceilings in many of the units, mostly occupied by large and impoverished Latino families.

The rooms are infested with roaches and other insects, and garbage flows over onto the ground from a single trash bin. Monthly rents range from $450 for a tiny single-room unit to $625 for a two-room unit, according to tenants.

Officials said recent repairs have been shoddy and do not meet city standards. Examples are windows that are too small and exterior doors that were designed only for interior use.

Merino called conditions at the apartment complex "the worst that I have seen" in view of the large number of people affected.

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