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State Bill Targets Slumlords

Legislation: Proposal would force apartment owners to live in their buildings to ensure safety codes are met.


Community leaders and Devonshire Division police officers have tried for years to control a problematic apartment complex in a crime-ridden North Hills neighborhood.

They closed off access from busy Nordhoff Street, held block parties to promote peace and increased police patrols to deter criminal activity. On Friday, lawmakers announced a new approach to dealing with troubled buildings: legislation that would force apartment owners to live in their complexes to ensure that safety measures are implemented.

''It is time that building owners take responsibility for cleaning up nuisance properties that serve as a haven for illegal activity, and bring long-overdue safety to our communities,'' said City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo at a news conference in front of the deteriorating six-unit apartment complex in the 9000 block of Columbus Avenue. ''This complex is the perfect example of what we are up against.''

If passed, the bill, introduced by Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood), could affect thousands of complexes in Los Angeles and throughout the state, Delgadillo said.

Delgadillo, Koretz and Los Angeles City Council President Alex Padilla stood in front of the North Hills apartment complex, where from August 1999 to February 2001 police reported 21 drug-related arrests, several shootings and a homicide, according to Gretchen Smith, a deputy city attorney.

Smith worked with Tim Kirkpatrick, a Los Angeles Police Department narcotics investigator, for more than two years to get an injunction against the owner of the complex in an attempt to curtail alleged drug activity and other crimes there.

Kirkpatrick said drug sales have taken place inside the laundry room, in the parking lot and in front of the building. Some dealers were tenants, or knew people who lived in the complex.

The injunction asked for more lighting, surveillance cameras and a working security gate, as well as better tenant screening. However, the owner sold the property before the injunction was secured and left the place a shambles.

The proposed legislation would make it more difficult to transfer ownership of a property to avoid making changes and would require owners to ''witness firsthand the problems in their apartments,'' Delgadillo said.

''We'll put them in the laundry room if we have to,'' joked the city attorney.

Claudia Garcia, a tenant in the North Hills building, said she pays a steep rent--$550 a month for a one-bedroom unit--in a complex she describes as ''falling apart.''

''The gangs and drugs are bad,'' said Garcia, a 24-year-old mother of three who shares the apartment with her 27-year-old brother, ''but I have problems inside also that need to be fixed.''

Garcia said her kitchen is infested with cockroaches, the bathroom and kitchen walls are crumbling and the carpet looks as if it has not been cleaned in years. In the hallway, she pointed to an area where a smoke alarm should be.

''The owner is never here, so I can't get anyone to help me,'' she said as her daughters Rachel and Valerie played in the living room near a broken air conditioner and exposed electrical outlets.

Outside the complex, the yellow paint is peeling in areas, while some walls are patched to cover bullet holes or painted over to hide gang graffiti.

At the time of the building's sale in September, 50 people were living in its six units, said Daron Campbell, managing partner for Apartment Sales Group Inc., a Sherman Oaks real estate firm.

Campbell said the problems his company inherited when it purchased the property will be fixed.

''This new law will help,'' said Campbell. ''I like the concept. It will be an incentive for property owners to get their places fixed. When I'm done with the work here, I want this place to be a place that I am willing to live in.''

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