Landlord Investigation Roils City Council Race, Re-Ignites Legislation In Sacramento

(Illustration by Dan Carino)

A Los Angeles city councilmember has returned campaign donations and a state legislator is promising to reintroduce a bill that would shed light on the rental market, following the publication of a KPCC/LAist investigation into landlord Mike Nijjar and PAMA Management.

Here in L.A., campaign contributions to Councilmember David Ryu by PAMA Management and Patricia Nijjar, who is married to Mike Nijjar, quickly came under fire. Two challengers, Sarah Kate Levy and Nithya Raman, both blasted Ryu in tweets on Wednesday.

The donations to Ryu were made in June 2019. They totaled $1,600, and supported his re-election campaign for L.A. City Council.

On Friday, Ryu's campaign said the donations had been returned. A statement from the campaign said:

"Councilmember Ryu unequivocally condemns PAMA Management's grotesque business practices, and any management company that skirts the law and takes advantage of tenants. The campaign has refunded the two contributions. Councilmember Ryu's record on this issue speaks for itself: He has repeatedly stood up to abusive landlords to protect tenants, he has advanced numerous pieces of legislation to expand renter protections, and has more than 500 units of homeless housing either built or in progress."

Ryu, Levy and Raman are on the March 3 primary ballot, vying to represent the district that spans Sherman Oaks, Los Feliz and Koreatown.

The KPCC/LAist investigation story also sparked conversation among state lawmakers. Oakland Assemblymember Buffy Wicks shared the story, calling it "an infuriating & heartbreaking illustration of rental registry."

Wicks announced she would reintroduce a bill to collect valuable data on rental properties in California. "It's my number one priority this year," Wicks said from Japan, where she was visiting as part of an Assembly delegation.

A previous version of the bill failed to pass last year, amid opposition from landlord groups and concerns over a price tag in excess of $20 million. Wicks said she hoped to bring down the cost and strengthen enforcement mechanisms in the law this time around. The goal remains the same: to capture information about rents, vacancies, ownership and evictions in rental housing to paint a fuller picture of the housing market in California.

"It's my hope that that data will then provide sunlight," and deal with "egregious practices", Wicks said.

David Chiu, who is chair of the Assembly's Housing Committee, pledged to support Wicks' bill on Thursday. He called the reporting in the KPCC/LAist story "horrifying & dangerous".

KPCC/LAist's investigation reported that the PAMA Management rental empire spans an estimated 16,000 units across several California counties. It detailed longstanding concerns over safety, health and habitability at PAMA properties. PAMA properties have been the site of a typhus outbreak, shootings, and a fire that killed a 5 month-old girl. In that last incident, state regulators charged that the "complete disregard for all Health and Safety Code statutes and regulations that are intended to protect the public led to the death of an infant."

EDITOR'S NOTE: This guide is part of our new, ongoing series, STUCK: Inside California's Housing Crisis.

LAist is committed to bringing you the information you need to navigate the state's housing crisis. As affordable options shrink, more and more people have found themselves on the brink of homelessness, or in the streets. Last year, more than 151,000 people in California were counted as homeless, a 17% increase since 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

We're exploring the many corners of this crisis, from the rise of corporate landlords to renters enduring dangerous and illegal conditions to newly arrived immigrants trying to keep a roof over their heads. We'll also explore ways city and state officials have failed to protect vulnerable populations from exploitation and the way many homeless people are relegated to premature death on the streets.

READ THE FULL INVESTIGATION:

Deceit, Disrepair and Death Inside a Southern California Rental Empire

'Decades of Neglect' 6 Key Takeaways About PAMA Management & Mike Nijjar's Real Estate Empire