'Basically...A Slumlord:' Los Angeles DA Candidates Respond to Our Landlord Investigation

Former San Francisco DA George Gascon (L), incumbent DA Jackie Lacey (C), and former federal public defender Rachel Rossi. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images; Damian Dovarganes/AP; Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Patrisse Cullors)

Challengers in the Los Angeles' District Attorney race are calling for greater scrutiny into the business practices of the real estate and property management empire that was the subject of a KPCC/LAist investigation published last week.

Incumbent DA Jackie Lacey said that her enforcement abilities for landlords extend only to unincorporated areas of L.A. County.

Our yearlong investigation took a deep look at dozens of entities connected to PAMA Management, Mike Nijjar and his family.

"We're talking basically about a slumlord," said George Gascón, former district attorney of San Francisco. He called the details of the reporting "extremely concerning."

Gascón promised to open an investigation into PAMA and its corporate cousins, if elected. Building, fire and health and safety code violations could spur action, he added. "Many of those clearly could have criminal consequences, certainly have civil consequences," Gascón said. He also pointed to unreturned security deposits as potentially "fraudulent activities."

According to fair housing advocates and former employees, PAMA rarely returns security deposits.

'LOOKING THE OTHER WAY'

Gascón accused Lacey of "looking the other way" on tenant issues. "The rich, the affluent, the powerful have one set of rules. And other people, they face the fullest extent of the law," he said.

"It really falls to the prosecutor to do this work," Gascón said, adding that cases involving large landlords could potentially cross county lines and involve multiple prosecutors offices.

Challenger Rachel Rossi, a former public defender also running for DA, pledged in a statement to create a taskforce to investigate corporate landlords.

"Large corporations, like PAMA Management and their affiliated entities, are consistently sued through the civil court process. Yet they still treat lawsuits as a routine business cost, disregarding the safety and welfare of their tenants. When corporate greed rises to illegality and fraud, the District Attorney must step in," Rossi said.

Rossi's statement links evictions to rapidly rising homelessness. "As District Attorney I would scale back the overcriminalization of houseless Angelenos," she said.


Learn more about all three DA candidates in our voter's guide.


A MEASURED TONE

While her challengers expressed anger and concern, Lacey, who has been the DA since 2012, took a measured tone.

"The District Attorney's does handle cases in which building and safety codes are violated by landlords. Our jurisdiction is limited to the unincorporated areas," she said.

Lacey, whose career at the district attorney's office began in code enforcement, is running for a third term. She is facing two challengers from the left, in Gascón and Rossi, in the March 3 primary election.

If no candidate receives a majority of votes in the March 3 primary, the top two vote-getters will square off on the November ballot.

KPCC/LAist's investigation reported that the rental empire connected to Nijjar and PAMA spans an estimated 16,000 units across several California counties, and includes hundreds of properties in Los Angeles County. Holdings connected to the real estate empire are assessed at well over $1 billion.

The story 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. Following the baby's death, 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."

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