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Community News: Mid-City

KOREATOWN : Landlord Convicted of Slum Charges

October 02, 1994|LESLIE BERESTEIN

A landlord was recently convicted of slum violations for the third time in eight years after pleading no contest to 12 violations of fire, health, and building and safety codes at 840 S. Hobart Blvd., an aging 103-unit apartment complex.

Joseph Tabello, 62, of La Habra was fined $15,136, ordered to perform 50 hours of community service and placed on three years' probation. He was last prosecuted in April for failure to provide sufficient lighting in the complex, and was convicted in 1988 of slum violations in that building and one at 826 S. Hobart.

The 840 S. Hobart property had broken fire doors, tangled fire hoses, 10 missing fire extinguishers, faulty electrical wiring, broken fire sprinklers, damaged walls, leaky plumbing and cockroach infestation, according to the city attorney's staff report. Repairs must be completed by Nov. 1 or Tabello could face additional punishment, including jail time.

This is the fifth time an inner-city landlord has been convicted of repeated slum violations this year. One of those, a Westlake landlord, was sentenced to six months in jail after failing to complete ordered repairs.

Richard Bobb, a supervisor of housing enforcement for the city attorney's office, said he believes it is necessary to push for stiff sentences for convicted repeat offenders such as Tabello because fines can too easily be dismissed as an operating expense.

"We don't want to see our cases become (another) cost of doing business," he said.

"In effect, the fine becomes a license to run slums. We want judges to see this."

Remo Tabello, an attorney who represented his brother Joseph in court, said that close to 90% of the necessary repairs have been completed. Although he accepted some fault on behalf of his brother, Tabello blamed most of the problems in the building on its low-income tenants.

"He came under attack for violations way back," Tabello said, referring to his brother's 1988 conviction for 25 slum violations in the two Hobart Avenue buildings, for which he was fined $18,174. "But the building was fixed. The tenants just played havoc with it."

This is a common excuse, said Bobb, especially when the tenants in question are immigrants who have difficulty with English and little confidence in the authorities. According to inspectors, many residents of 840 S. Hobart are immigrants from Latin America.

"Landlords are quick to blame their tenants," he said. "The problem is that you're dealing with tenants who are afraid to complain."

The greatest number of slum violations in Los Angeles, Bobb said, take place in the Westlake area, which is densely populated with Latinos. Hollywood and Koreatown--both magnets for immigrants--also have their share of violations, he said.

According to Bobb, the building fell into disrepair again in the years following the 1988 conviction. Although Tabello received warnings, inspectors from the Department of Building and Safety's Slum Housing Task Force concluded in April that repair efforts were insufficient and filed a criminal case.

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