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State Moves to Pull Real Estate License of L.A. Landlord

The action against Lance Robbins, who has a history of violations, is unfair, attorney says.

November 01, 2005|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

Citing a history of criminal violations, the state has acted to revoke the real estate broker's license of Lance J. Robbins, who has more convictions than any landlord prosecuted by a special city unit set up to crack down on slum housing in Los Angeles, according to documents released Monday.

State Real Estate Commissioner Jeff Davi plans to revoke Robbins' license effective Nov. 23 unless he decides to grant an appeal filed by Robbins.

Robbins and his partner Stanley Treitel, their families and associates have given $16,600 in political contributions to City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, who is responsible for prosecuting landlords. All but $1,000 of their donations came after Delgadillo settled a lawsuit against the men for $1 million, even though the city claimed they owed $3 million in delinquent water and power bills and penalties.

Davi originally decided to revoke Robbins' license effective Oct. 24, but agreed to postpone the effective date of his decision for 30 days.

Thomas A. Nitti, an attorney for Robbins, filed a motion for reconsideration on Monday. "It's unfair," Nitti said of the revocation order. "More importantly it's not supported by the evidence presented at hearing."

Nitti argued that Robbins should not be penalized by the real estate commissioner for pleading no contest in 2001 to three misdemeanor charges that one of his buildings had a blocked emergency exit, a faulty fire extinguisher and lacked proper fire alarms.

"These items aren't substantially related to the function of a real estate license holder," Nitti said. "You don't need a real estate license to check a fire extinguisher."

The administrative law judge who heard the state's argument for revocation concluded Sept. 8 that Robbins should lose his license, rejecting his lawyer's contention that there is no substantial relationship between the criminal charges and the responsibility of a license holder.

"Here there is both a profit motive and the chance of substantial injury to the person or property of another -- namely the inhabitants of the apartments," Judge N. Gregory Taylor wrote.

The judge said he also took into consideration that from 1986 to 2001 Robbins was convicted of at least 27 violations of city building codes involving multiple properties.

Robbins acquired more than 1,000 apartment units between 1981 and 1985, and sold many of them later for profits of more than $3 million, the court records show. He later helped acquire 38 buildings that he renovated for clients and he currently represents the owners of more than 20 properties with 1,000 apartments, the judge concluded.

Taylor also cited two private rebukes of Robbins, an attorney, by the State Bar of California during the 1990s based on his previous convictions.

"The 2001 crimes of which [Robbins] was convicted involved moral turpitude and are substantially related to the qualifications, functions and duties of a real estate licensee in that they involved doing unlawful acts with the intent of conferring a financial benefit," Taylor wrote.

If Robbins lost his real estate broker's license, he would be prevented from acting as a broker for others, but could still buy and rehabilitate properties, Nitti said.

A 2001 lawsuit by then City Atty. James K. Hahn called Robbins "one of Los Angeles' most notorious landlords."

The Times reported last week that 974 S. Gramercy Place in Koreatown, operated by Robbins and Treitel, missed a second deadline for fixing 286 building code violations, including faulty fire alarms, water leaks and cockroach infestations. The city granted an extension because the work was 80% complete.

If repairs are not made to the property, the case could go to the Housing Department general manager for enforcement. The general manager reports to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who received $2,250 from Treitel, his wife and his business that co-owns the building.

A spokesman for the mayor said Monday that he has no plans to return the contributions. "The mayor has made it clear there is no connection between campaign contributions and actions by the city," spokesman Joe Ramallo said. "He expects the housing department to pursue this case aggressively, as it should any allegation of wrongdoing."

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