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Housing and Homelessness

LA Tenants Say City Is Failing To Hold Mega-Landlord Mike Nijjar Accountable For Slum Housing Conditions

Around a dozen people hold protest signs and placards aloft in the parking lot of a two-story office building. One man is sitting on the ground working on a portable sound system.
Tenants protest outside the offices of PAMA Management in El Monte.
(David Wagner
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Tenants at a sprawling apartment complex in South L.A. have complained for years about mold, pests, raw sewage and faulty heaters, but they say their landlord — one of the largest rental property owners in the state — still hasn’t fixed the terrible living conditions in their building. And they believe the city is letting him slide.

Holding signs reading “Mold Is Killing Us” and “We Are Sick Of Nijjar Slumlord,” tenants of the 425-unit Chesapeake apartments complex gathered outside the El Monte offices of PAMA Management on Friday to demand the company fix longstanding problems.

The complex is run by PAMA Management, which is among the many business entities connected to one of California’s largest landlords, Mike Nijjar.

In early 2020, KPCC and LAist reporter Aaron Mendelson published an investigation exposing patterns of neglect in Nijjar’s vast real estate empire. His reporting found widespread issues associated with dangerous living conditions, severe health problems and even death for some tenants.

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At Friday’s protest, tenant Milton Morris said the mold in his unit is so bad, his wife and daughter now rely on breathing machines.

“We fill out the maintenance requests. We send them letters in writing. And we just get nothing in return,” Morris said. “All we get is false promises.”

‘We Pay Our Rent’

Chesapeake tenant Zerita Jones said the city and county have known about these conditions for years, but the problems persist.

“Obviously we pay our rent, so therefore, we should at least have safe habitable homes and repairs should be made timely and according to code,” Jones said.

 Zerita Jones stands in front of an office building in El Monte, California.
Zerita Jones has lived at the Chesapeake apartments with her elderly mother since 2014.
(David Wagner/LAist)

In 2017, L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer sued Nijjar over rampant criminal activity at the Chesapeake apartments. He sued Nijjar again earlier this year over conditions at a separate rental property in North Hollywood, which had allegedly devolved into a “blatant and severe gang- and gun-related public nuisance.”

Rob Wilcox, a spokesperson for Feuer’s office, said in an email:

“We have asked the Housing Department to fully investigate these complaints at Chesapeake. We will take appropriate action, including potentially filing criminal charges if warranted, if we receive a referral from the Department.”
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PAMA Management did not respond to our requests for comment.

City Plans To Inspect The Property Next Month

The Los Angeles Housing Department (LAHD) sent inspectors to the Chesapeake complex in November 2021 and again in January 2022, according to department spokesperson Sandra Mendoza.

“LAHD has scheduled a proactive large-scale inspection of the entire property in June 2022,” Mendoza said in an email. “LAHD continues to respond to multiple complaints through scheduled complaint investigations.”

Tenant organizations have long complained that responsibility for addressing slum housing is split between too many slow-moving L.A. government agencies. As a result, low-income tenants can end up trapped in dangerous and unhealthy living conditions for years, while negligent property owners are rarely held accountable for failing to fix problems in deteriorating buildings.

At properties like the Chesapeake apartments, the city’s housing inspectors only look for building code violations. Problems with mold, pests and other health concerns fall under the purview of the L.A. County Department of Public Health, which did not provide responses to our questions for this story.

The state Attorney General’s office said it could not confirm or deny any potential investigation involving PAMA.

Morris, the Chesapeake tenant, said renters at the property long ago lost faith in the government agencies responsible for oversight of their building.

“For years, this man has been raking in millions, when he should not have been renting out these apartments at all,” Morris said.

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