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Owners Give Away Their Apartment Complex : Housing: Days before they were charged with slumlord violations, couple donated $530,000 building to a Hawthorne church. Case against pair will still be pursued.

August 26, 1993|DIANA S. KIM | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SILVER LAKE — A Hawthorne church has become the new landlord of a Silver Lake apartment complex after its former owners were recently charged with felony slumlord violations.

In early July, just days before they were charged by the Los Angeles city attorney with 18 health, building and safety code violations in a 16-unit building in the 800 block of North Vendome Street, Augusto J. David, 38, and his wife, Lyn M. David, 37, donated the $530,000 complex to the Tabernacle Community Church.

The minister of the church has promised to fix up the building. Nevertheless, the case against the couple will still be pursued, Deputy City Atty. Lawrence P.V. Punter said.

The Davids, who were arraigned in Los Angeles Municipal Court on Monday, declined comment.

A pretrial conference was scheduled for Sept. 21. The couple's attorney, Fred Szkolnik, said he wants to negotiate a fine without jail time for his clients.

Though he would not elaborate, Szkolnik said the Davids own several real estate investment properties and have no prior criminal records.

If convicted, the couple could be fined up to $1,000 and sentenced to six months in jail for each violation.

"They broke the law and they have to face the penalty. We have to make them responsible for the conditions that existed," Punter said.

According to authorities, the documented violations found between April 15 and June 14 by the city Slum Housing Task Force include missing and defective smoke detectors; security bars without quick-release devices over windows; broken and missing windows and screens; deteriorated walls, ceilings and floors; leaking faucets; broken kitchen sinks, toilets and showers; accumulation of trash and debris on the premises, and rodent and cockroach infestations.

"Our primary concern is that the tenants have a safe place to live," Punter said. "Every time I hear of a catastrophe (involving housing) in the news, quite frankly, I hope it's not one of my (cases).

"Believe me, they (landlords) make lots of money in these substandard housing (units) and, therefore, they should be able to make the required repairs."

City inspectors recently met with Bishop John Sheriff of the Hawthorne church to inform him of the apartments' status, Punter said, adding that the city has asked the Pentecostal church to upgrade the building, which will be inspected again in mid-September.

"We will take care of it," said Sheriff, who added he was "as appalled as the city was" when he first saw the two-story building.

Sheriff, whose church also owns a few affordable single-family homes, said providing shelter to the homeless and feeding the hungry is as important for a church as filling parishioners' spiritual needs. After the renovations are complete, he expects the church to break even with its new complex.

Augusto David, who is not a church member, approached Sheriff about donating the building, the minister said. David said he wanted to deed the property he had owned for more than two years to the church, because it was a predominantly black parish. The Filipino immigrant said that he was once helped by a black man early in his business career, Sheriff said.

But Szkolnik said his clients also realized that the building was becoming a legal and financial liability.

"(The Davids) wanted to do some good with the property and thought perhaps the church could turn it around," the lawyer said.

Whatever the reasons, the change in ownership immediately meant a change in the living conditions for the apartments' mostly Latino immigrant tenants.

"Bishop Sheriff is a nice person. He speaks Spanish and he comes by here a lot. And I think he is fixing things," said Elias Jimenez, 14, who lives in a one-bedroom apartment with his parents and two younger sisters. He said he is the only member of his family who speaks fluent English.

The Jimenez family has lived in the $450-a-month apartment for four years because that is all Elias' father, who works in a juice factory in Commerce, can afford, the teen-ager said. The family, who lives on the first floor, had long put up with a leaking bathroom ceiling. Elias said it was fixed early this week.

The teen-ager said he has gotten used to the building's rats chewing up his clothes and homework. But he hopes that, also, will soon come to an end.

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